The parents who misuse and abuse social media

Written by: Kaley Foran | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The best way to deal with inappropriate social media use by parents is to proactively set expectations, and to be clear on how you will respond to incidents of abuse or misuse. Kaley Foran offers her advice, including on what you can do if an issue does arise

Acceptable use agreement for parents?

You can use this to set clear guidelines and expectations on how parents should use social media (or other communications forums) when they communicate with or about your school.

Make sure your agreement covers parents’ use of:

  • The school Facebook page.
  • Personal social media accounts.
  • Private groups or channels (such as class Facebook pages or WhatsApp groups).

You cannot require parents to sign an acceptable use agreement, but using one can help you to explain what kinds of behaviour you will not tolerate.

Social media use in a parent code of conduct

Some schools do this as well as, or instead of, having an acceptable use agreement. Parent codes of conduct are not legally binding, but you can use one to set out things like:

  • How the school will respond to inappropriate behaviour.
  • When the school may involve the police.
  • The headteacher’s right to ban parents from the school premises.

Publicise your policies so parents follow the right procedures

Parents may turn to social media if they do not know how to raise a complaint or handle an incident in the right way. Make sure parents know about your policies and procedures on things like complaints and behaviour. To do this:

  • Make sure your policies are easy to find on your school website.
  • Regularly remind parents about key policies (via your newsletters or other updates).
  • Make copies of these policies available at parents’ evenings, or set aside time to talk about them to parents.

Send letters to parents to address incidents of misuse

Have a template letter ready to go, which includes model text that you can easily adapt in order to respond quickly to the following common social media incidents:

  • A parent complaining about an individual member of staff.
  • A parent complaining about the school.
  • Inappropriate comments about a member of staff or other parents or pupils.
  • A parent discussing a behaviour incident.
  • A parent posting a picture of another child online without consent.

Use the letter to remind the parent of the expectations of them, the policy or procedure they should be following (if relevant) and why it is important they do this, and let them know who they should speak to if they want to discuss the incident further.

If you are experiencing a run of such incidents, send a similar letter to the wider parent community to remind them about the school’s expectations, policies and procedures. It could be signed by the headteacher and/or the chair of governors.

More serious cases

In the most serious cases, you may be able to ban the parent or take legal action. Headteachers have the power to ban a parent from the school site if they believe they pose a threat to staff or pupils. It does not matter whether the abuse happens in person or over social media.

Always try to resolve the situation face-to-face first, but if this proves unsuccessful, you can then send a letter to the parent asking them not to visit the school unless invited to attend an appointment (such as a parents’ evening). Seek legal advice before sending any such letter.

Avoid taking legal action if at all possible, as it can be complex and expensive. However, you may be able to take this step if a parents’ actions are defamatory or malicious. If you decide this is the right course of action, make sure you seek high-quality, reliable legal advice.

For a comment to count as “defamation”, it must cause, or be likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of an individual or your school. It must also be published to a third party, e.g. in an online public forum, rather than communicated in an email directly to the school.

Online communication may count as “malicious” if it conveys a message which is indecent or grossly offensive, a threat, or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender.

  • Kaley Foran is a lead content editor at The Key, a provider of advice, information and resources for education leaders. The Key worked with one of its associate experts, Lucinda Bell – a senior lawyer specialising in education law who provides advice to schools and governors – to write this article. Visit https://thekeysupport.com/


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