Tuesday, March 13, 2012
BOICEVILLE, N.Y. — Onteora school leaders are concerned about how people have been expressing a torrent of criticism about the controversial reconfiguration process through the district’s relatively new Facebook page.
“I’m very accepting of diverse opinions,” district Superintendent Phyllis Spiegel McGill told the school board last week. “I know we made some tough decisions not everyone is going to be happy with, and we’re trying to make everything work for every student as best we can. It’s not the matter of people being unhappy. It’s when those feelings are expressed in ways that violate what we expect in terms of acceptable language and violates the terms of what we said Facebook is for.”
“It’s the tone that’s really concerning me,” she added.
School board member Dan Spencer said the social media page was created during an “explosive time” for the district and the exchanges will likely become more positive over time.
“We asked for people’s opinions, and we got them,” said Spencer.
The school board on Feb. 28 chose to cluster grades between elementary school rather than continue to operate K-6 schools, and they chose the only one of three options that did not involve closing a school. The decision has been controversial among parents who are concerned about, among other matters, their school communities being drastically altered, the long-term financial viability of the plan, transportation issues, and new scheduling plans moving music to after school.
Those concerns have frequently been raised on the district’s Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/zNDkdQ).
McGill was concerned with people using language that would not be allowed in school and said monitoring it had become a “24-7” job. She was hoping the new contract with the Onteora Administrators Association will allow the burden to be spread around more.
Tony Fletcher, vice president of the school board, recalled a recent incident in which McGill had to take time out of a meeting to deal with “inflammatory comments,” and he said the superintendent’s time is money.
Trustee Laurie Osmond said some people tend to “say things they would not say to someone’s face” in online communications. Osmond, McGill, and Trustee Tom Hickey also expressed concern about how the district’s Facebook page would reflect on the district to a family researching whether or not it wants to live in Onteora.
“It’s not our job to police anybody, but I think if we’re going to have a website or any other kind of thing that represents who we are and what we stand for as a district, it should be a controlled environment in that regard,” said Hickey.
The district Facebook page’s policy excludes comments that are construed as being profane, spam, or personal attacks. When a recent comment was removed for containing profanity, however, some district residents said that they felt they were being censored.