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BOE continues to work on new online policy

WINDER -- Barrow County Schools Superintendent Ron Saunders said a policy on staff-student relations that addresses the use of online social networking sites is still under development.

Last month, district officials said the Barrow County Board of Education would vote on the proposed policy during its December meeting, but the policy was removed from the agenda before Tuesday's meeting.

Saunders said he is revising the policy, which received some criticism when it was publicly released.

"At this point I am only looking at it and do not plan to bring it back (before the school board) until 2010," Saunders said.

The proposed policy prohibits employees from establishing personal relationships with students that are unprofessional and inappropriate. A draft of the policy released last month addresses the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

An updated draft was not immediately available Tuesday evening, but the proposed policy stated that employees who use Facebook, MySpace or similar Web sites could be disciplined for posting "inappropriate personal information" such as provocative photographs, sexually explicit messages or the "use of alcohol, drugs or anything students are prohibited from doing." The proposed policy would also allow the district to conduct Internet searches to determine if employees have posted inappropriate materials online.

Saunders said the district began to craft the policy last summer.

A draft of the policy was released after a former Apalachee High School teacher sued the school system. The former teacher, Ashley Payne, contends she was forced to resign because of items posted on her Facebook page. The items in question include photographs of Payne holding alcoholic beverages and a status update containing an expletive.

Court documents show the school system says Payne's resignation was voluntary and, therefore, she is not entitled to the due process hearing she is seeking.