It’s highly likely that Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn had no idea the controversy and trouble two typed words – “Actually, yes” – would elicit when he wrote what was reported as a sarcastic response to an anonymous, online allegation of romantic involvement with a high school teacher.
Sagehorn’s case has gained heavy media and social media attention, and it has also spurred conversations in Monticello and school districts across the state as schools find themselves delving deeper into the complex issues created by social media
After viewing or reading news reports, it appeared district officials in Rogers had a hard time pinpointing an appropriate response to the situation that played out on an ask.fm forum, a social media site where users can ask other users questions anonymously. It didn’t take long before all sorts of questions began flying.
Should Sagehorn be suspended for five days? 10 days? Or how about seven weeks? Should he face criminal charges? Should the suspension’s length be shortened amid calls from community members that his punishment is too harsh? Sagehorn’s attorney likened his seven-week suspension to ‘using an atom bomb to kill an ant;’ others feel that kids need to fully understand the consequences their online activities can have.
Generally, Monticello Superintendent Jim Johnson said schools cannot take on the monumental task of policing students’ online activity. But when something is brought to their attention, he said they have a responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action when those online messages seep into and disrupt the classroom. This type of discipline currently falls under the district’s student discipline policy, but Johnson recently acknowledged the need to beef up the policy with more specific social media policies and guidelines for students and parents.
He said the district has already begun conversations on this topic and plans to roll out an expanded policy this fall.
“We don’t have anything real formal, to be honest with you,” Johnson said when asked about the district’s current social media policy.
“That’s where the bulk of our discussions have been in the last couple weeks. We’ve covered digital citizenship in an informal way in some of our classes … but we’re really looking to broaden that,” he said. “It’s a life skill. In today’s world there are things they may do [online] that could cost them their job in the future.”
High School Principal Joel Lundin, said he thinks digital citizenship and etiquette teaching needs to go beyond one single course or seminar.
“I truly believe that this is a lot bigger than any course; it should be embedded in how we use it in schools and teach it along the way,” Lundin said. “It should be embedded in how we teach everyday. And we have to get that information out on what this really means when kids do these different things, because now it’s more of a permanent record.”
Brooke Volpone, a senior at Monticello High School, said she feels Monticello students generally do a good job of being respectful on social media.
“As far as Monticello kids and social media usage, I feel like us as kids use social media responsibly whether that be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other sites,” Volpone said. “As students and peers, I feel like we respect each other enough, for the most part, on social media.”
Volpone said a member of the student body created an anonymous Twitter web site last year for Monticello High School, similar to the ‘Rogers Confessions’ ask.fm site, where teens can message the board’s owner with an anonymous tweet they would like shared on the page.
However, the site’s title specifically requests “nice” confessions and either MHS students honored this request or the site’s owner acted as a prudent gatekeeper and kept risky content off the page, or a combination of both.
The Twitter page has more than 600 followers but has dropped off in activity in recent months.
When it comes down to it, Lundin said the basic tenants schools, parents and society need to teach students about digital citizenship go back to the basic rules of conduct taught from an early age: respect self, respect others, respect property.
“It’s more than just a school conversation,” he said. “I think it’s more of a civic duty that we start to talk with students more at all levels.”
Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.