Burnsville Case Raises Questions About Social Media Between Teachers And Students

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When her sons are on the baseball diamond, parent Katie Tuma stays watchful from the sidelines, and in a way it’s similar to their use of social media.

“I trust them and I don’t really monitor that much,” she said.

But that trust doesn’t include teachers talking with her children on social media.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that,” she said.

The case against Burnsville High School teacher Erik Akervik is one reason why. He’s accused of having sex with a 16-year-old and sending nude pictures to 15-year-old student he connected with on social media. Court documents state Akervik friended the student on social media apps about a year ago, then started sending inappropriate messages over the past few weeks.

“Parents, you’ve got to ask those questions. You’ve got to be aware of what your kid is doing,” said lawyer Aimee Bissonette, who advises school districts on social media policies.

Bissonette supports the idea of students and staff connecting in the digital world, but not without rules.

“It really has to do with, ‘How transparent are the communications? Are administrators looped in? Do parents know that the communications are occurring?'” she said.

Websites like Facebook for Educators show teachers how to appropriately use social media to talk with students.

“That’s a site the school administrator can look at, the principal, the parents, it’s open,” Bissonette said.

Bissonette added that teachers should let parents know first that they’d like to connect with students on social media, and parents should also monitor the time of day that communication is happening.

“After school in anticipation of a track meet is one thing. Ten o’clock at night is going to raise eyebrows,” she said.

Bisonnette highlighted how the Minnetonkoa School District created a staff social media policy in 2010. “The thing that impressed me at the time that Minnetonka came out with that policy is that their goal really was not tie the hands of the teachers, in fact they talked to their teachers and staff and said this is to assist you,” she aid.

Policies or not, Tuma and other parents we talked with still didn’t agree social media communication. They’d prefer it be over the teacher’s school-issued email or better yet, in person before, during and immediately after school.

But they feel keeping a better eye on a teenager’s social media usage is a good idea.

“Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I should be,” Tuma said of following her children’s social media accounts.

WCCO reached out to Burnsville High School, where Akervik taught, to see if they have a social media policy for staff but didn’t hear back Wednesday evening.

Akervik faces a charge of criminal sexual conduct and electronic solicitation of a child.

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