Are Teachers Losing Their Rights on Social Media?

Earlier this week I posted a link to Joe Miller’s article about Deborah Vailes on my Facebook page, Chocolate 4 Teachers.
In the article, Mr. Miller informed readers about Deborah’s plight. She is a public school teacher in Louisiana that has been reprimanded for stating her opinion about CCSS on her personal Facebook page.  According to the article, not only has Mrs. Vailes had her first reprimand of her teaching career, but she has also been publicly criticized in a faculty meeting, had her responsibilities removed, and had three additional reprimands.  It is also possible that she will be terminated at the end of the school year. All because she posted a picture of a child crying over CCSS on her Facebook page at 5:58 AM.

After reading about Mrs. Vailes situation, I began looking at other situations involving Facebook and teachers.

In New Hampshire, a 79 year old substitute was given an ultimatum; unfriend your Facebook friends or you will no longer be called to substitute here. She did not comply to this request and quit, even though she had subbed for 35 years.   

In Ohio, a first year teacher was fired from his position for posting photos of a dairy farm and questioning their farming practices.  He also openly states, on his Facebook page, that he is a Vegan and animal rights advocate.

A Huffington Post article from 2013 tells of another Ohio teacher who posted a photo that was supposed to be a joke. Apparently, no one saw the humor in several students sitting with duct tape on their mouths.  She admitted that her actions were stupid and a huge mistake, but also stated that she did not put the tape on the students’ mouths. The students did this as a joke, she took a picture, and she posted it. 

In 2011, a New Jersey teacher was fired for posting anti-gay comments on her private Facebook page. One person stated that she does have the right to post her personal opinion, but not when she is a teacher. Maybe this person meant that she has the right to post her personal opinion as long as it agrees with them???? In another Huffington Post article from 2012, teacher Sharon Aceta was fired for posting a comment about Obama winning reelection. Neither teacher used profanity, to my knowledge, or personally insulted anyone, nor did their post have any school ties. They simply stated their personal opinion. 
I did run across several stories, while doing research, about teachers that were fired for inappropriate pictures or comments. In my own opinion, I would have to agree that these actions were necessary. Posting anything on a social media network requires common sense. We are responsible adults and should know that anything we post is forever etched in Cyber-Space.  We should also realize that, as teachers, we are in a unique position to protect, NOT EXPLOIT, children. Don’t post things that you yourself question. Don’t post revealing photos. Don’t post negative comments about students, parents, your District, or colleagues. Don’t post when you are angry. Never post photos of students or any comment about a student.

With that said, Do I think that Deborah Vailes should be reprimanded for her post? No, based on the information that I have found.  The information that I have read does not indicate that her post contained any questionable language or photos. Neither was it an attack on her District or any of her students or parents. 

Should the 79 year old substitute be forced to unfriend students?
Not in my opinion. The decision was based on another teacher who had misused social media to abuse children. Therefore, everyone was punished. She had faithfully served the district, without a social mishap, for 35 years. Maybe an alternative would be that she should friend administrators so they would be a part of her Facebook world.

The list continues, but I will wrap things up by saying that with every right is a responsibility. I think most teachers agree that we have a responsibility to our students.  We also have a responsibility to ourselves.
How do we want to be portrayed in the public eye? Do we want to be remembered for our tireless dedication or for party pics?   I think we can all agree that, with the growth of social media, also comes a growing need for educating ourselves, and our students, about usage.  We need to step up and be the role models that our students need.  Does this mean giving up our rights as private citizens? No, but it does mean remembering that young eyes are on us, watching us, and looking to us for leadership.

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