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Teachers and Technology: Ripped from the Headlines

Dozens of teachers across the U.S. and Canada have been reprimanded, suspended and even fired for legal, personal activities away from work. The following stories revolve around the content of teachers’ Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace accounts. Each teacher was confronted with content that parents, students or administrators felt was inappropriate, and in each case the teacher was reprimanded, suspended or fired.

Charlotte, N.C.
An elementary school teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District posted on Facebook that “I’m teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.” The teacher was suspended. Four other teachers were also reprimanded for content on their Facebook accounts.

Austin, Texas
A high school art teacher in the Austin Independent School District was fired for photos that appeared on her Flickr account that were deemed indecent by her school’s administrators.

Windner, Ga.
A high school teacher in the Barrow County School District was fired when a student told school officials that the teacher’s Facebook page included photos of the teacher drinking beer and wine while traveling in Europe and a reference to  language that the principal deemed indecent.

Beaver Dam, Wis.
A middle school teacher in the Beaver Dam School District was suspended after photos of her pointing a rifle at the camera appeared on her Facebook profile.

Bangor, Mich.
A high school teacher in the Bangor School District was suspended after she commented on her Facebook profile that she “wants to kill her ninth-grade flute player who stole the school's $900 dollar piccolo and is denying it.”

Lusby, Md.
A middle school teacher in the Calvert County School District was suspended after she attacked her students and their parents, saying: “Why are teachers, the government, the school system, the FCC, and everyone and their mother (except the mothers and fathers) taking responsibility to teach the kids respect, accountability, responsibility, etc…. When the [expletive] did parents decide that their kids are not responsible for anything they do?”

Richmond, Va.
A high school art teacher in the Chesterfield County School District was suspended after displaying photos of paintings of nude models on YouTube.

Ansonia, Conn.
A high school teacher in the Ansonia School District was fired after his principal determined that he had engaged in unprofessional communication with students via his MySpace profile. The teacher sued the school—SPANIERMAN V. HUGHES, No. 06-1196 (D. Conn. Sept. 16, 2008)—and the U.S. District Court of Connecticut determined that:

It is reasonable for the Defendants [Connecticut Department of Education] to expect the Plaintiff, a teacher with supervisory authority over students, to maintain a professional, respectful association with those students. This does not mean that the Plaintiff could not be friendly or humorous; however, upon review of the record, it appears that the Plaintiff would communicate with students as if he were their peer, not their teacher. Such conduct could very well disrupt the learning atmosphere of a school, which sufficiently outweighs the value of Plaintiff's MySpace speech.

Millersville, Pa.
A teaching candidate was denied her degree when her school became aware of postings on her MySpace profile that included a picture of her in which she is seen drinking and wearing a pirate hat. The teaching candidate sued her college—SNYDER v. MILLERSVILLE UNIVERSITY, No. 07-1660 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 3, 2008)—and lost. The U.S. District Court that heard the case decided that the teacher candidate’s right to free speech was not violated when the school denied her a degree based on her MySpace page.

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
A middle school teacher for St. John's County School District was fired when the principal became aware of inappropriate messages on his MySpace page.

Pearl, Miss.
A student is suing a teacher and coach for being forced to share the contents of her Facebook profile. The coach required all members of the cheerleading squad to provide usernames and passwords for their Facebook and MySpace accounts. The coach claimed it was to ensure the cheerleaders were not drinking or violating the team’s code of conduct. The coach read a personal correspondence between two members of the squad that included profanity. The coach then forwarded the correspondence to other staff and school administrators.

Phoenix, Ariz.
A Phoenix area CBS News television station investigated new teachers’ MySpace and Facebook profile pages looking for potentially embarrassing content.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A principal was suspended, though not fired, when a nude photo from his family’s summer vacation was posted to his Facebook profile.

School Districts, State Legislatures and Teachers' Unions Respond

Due to the increasing frequency of issues surrounding Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc. school districts, state legislatures and teachers unions have increasingly seen it necessary to weigh in on the subject.

School Districts
A Missouri school district banned teachers from being “friends” with their students on Facebook. Other districts require documentation of all online interaction between students and teachers. School districts are increasingly issuing codes of conduct to regulate what they regard as unacceptable communication.

State Legislatures
A Louisiana law now requires school districts to implement a policy requiring documentation of every electronic interaction between teachers and students through a nonschool-issued devise. Similar policies are already in place in many school districts across the country.

Teachers' Unions
Ohio and Missouri Education Associations recommend to their members that teachers not join social networking sites.