NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Board of Education members have unanimously agreed to a new code of conduct. Two board members gave up administrative roles on education-related Facebook pages as a result of the new policy.
“It’s not to say that Board members cannot post on social media, or cannot participate in social media but there are some pieces based on current lawsuits and cases that are going through the court system that we need to be wary and cautious of, in order to kind of prevent,” Board member Julie Corbett said at Tuesday’s BoE meeting.
The code also states that Board members will grant others the respect they would want for themselves, encourage and respect the free expression of opinions by Board members and stakeholders, and “strive to help our public schools meet the individual educational needs of children of all abilities, races, religions or creeds, languages, physical abilities, gender expressions and sexual orientations, ethnicities, countries of origin, and socioeconomic classes.
Previous Boards have signed civility codes with content that was “not keeping up” with 20th century language, Corbett said, hence the update which she said draws on best practices nationwide. The social media passage is an attempt to prevent potential liabilities to the Board and the District, she said.
“We may be an exemplar, at least an early implementer of something related to social media and related to elected officials…. It’s not designed to violate a Board member’s First Amendment rights but when you’re a Board member you are acting not only as yourself, as an individual but also as a Board member.”
The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and Attorney Thomas Mooney, counsel to the Norwalk Board of Education, said that a Board member administering a page could run into legal issues by revoking the rights of a citizen to comment on a social media board, Corbett said.
Even if the Board member announced that he or she were running a page as a private citizen, “it’s so murky that you’ve got to be very careful because the Board of Ed could be sued anyway,” Board member Bruce Kimmel said.
“If you choose not to sign the code and you (run a page) anyway … even if you’re not privy to district legal counsel, it still does potentially put the district at a liability,” Corbett said. “It goes to a larger question of your role as a Board member.”
Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, who was elected in 2017, founded the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education 4.5 years ago. The group has grown to 3,718 members.
“I understand that could now become a liability for the Board and I respect that,” she said. “I am very proud to have built something that has helped the community over four and a half years, and also proud that I am partnering with some really wonderful women, who will take it over beautifully.”
Board Chairman Mike Barbis said he’d step down from NEXT…….. For Norwalk In Education, a Facebook page with 577 members.
“I want to honor this code, do the right thing, I don’t want put the board in a difficult position,” he said.