WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington School Committee is very concerned about the way some Wilmington parents are using Facebook to gossip and vent about teachers, principals, administrators, and other aspects of the school system.
“I think there is a major problem in this town with the use of the Facebook,” said School Committee member Peggy Kane a recent meeting. “There are many parents who skip the whole chain of command and go straight to Facebook.”
“Some people put absolute lies on Facebook — stuff that is simply not true,” continued Kane. “A parent could simply go to the Principal and get the answer. Some parents are not doing that. It’s causing a huge problem for [teachers]. I’m so sick of it.”
“We all need to work together on this issue. And if we have to start calling people out, then we need to call them out,” said Kane. “There was one post recently about wanting to do an anonymous survey of the attitude at the Middle School. C’mon! Would you want an anonymous survey done at your place of work?”
“We talk about what a great community we live in. And we live in a great community, except for the people who use Facebook to bully other people in this community. And it’s not right,” continued Kane. “Our teachers are doing a wonderful job and what do they get for it? A lie on Facebook, instead of a thank you… I’m sick of sitting back and not saying anything. We need to do something about the [improper] use of Facebook.”
“Very well said,” responded Chair Steve Bjork. “Every point was fantastic.”
“Your comments were spot on,” said colleague M.J. Byrnes. “By posting such things on Facebook, it slows down the process of being productive, efficient and effective in the [teaching] of all our kids. We want parents to join our forces to work collaboratively. [Negative] Facebook posts just make the teacher’s job more difficult to accomplish.”
Assistant Superintendent Gallagher recalled discussing social media with parents at Open Houses when he was the Principal in Beverly.
“We would show some really nasty posts, and the parents in the audience would be taken back. And then we’d surprise the parents by revealing that the posts weren’t written by students, but by parents,” said Gallagher. “When parents vent a frustration, they don’t realize the impact that vent can have within the school culture… Some of those posts can create a hostile environment.”
Gallagher noted that a majority of parents, a silent majority, are very positive. They recognize that online criticism isn’t useful to resolving issues. Gallagher said those parents will need to help the school system to work together on this issue.
“Sometimes parents skip the step about talking to staff, and go right to social media,” said School Committee member Julie Broussard. “Maybe they think we’re going to see it, or they expect us to act on something that’s posted on Facebook. But they’re forgetting the first step. Let’s always try to resolve the issue at the classroom level first, and then we have a chain of command from there.”
“I hope we can start the conversation about how to curb this online bullying [of teachers and school staff]. It’s out of control,” said colleague Tom Talbot, who stressed that parents need to be patient when communicating with teachers and can’t expect instantaneous responses.
“I think some of the Facebook posts come from an utter frustration and a complete love of their child. Parents may feel like they don’t know what to do. We need to look at it as a cry for help,” said School Committee member Jenn Bryson. “We need to ask ourselves if we are opening ourselves up enough to communication? We need to ask why are parents turning to social media and why are Facebook groups constantly coming up? Why is this happening?… Is everyone accessible enough?”
“Social media is a huge, huge challenge,” agreed colleague Manny Mulas. “We’re not going to be able to stop it, but we need to somehow manage it in a way that it doesn’t hurt people. We need to make parents aware that what they write on social media affects people’s careers. And it’s not just in schools. It’s in dance, hockey, soccer, etc. And it’s not slowing down, it’s getting worse.”
The School Committee agreed that discussion on this matter needed to continue.
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