Suspended Teacher in Facebook Incident Ignites Debate: Should Online Privacy for Educators Exist?

According to the attorney for a Charlotte, North Carolina teacher suspended for a comment made on her Facebook page, the postings were intended to be read only by friends to whom she granted access. In an article published Friday by The Charlotte Observer, attorney John Gresham is quoted as saying, "Facebook pages are only meant to be viewed by people permitted to see them." He questioned how the private postings became public and whether "it was appropriate for a reporter to air private postings."

The suspension occurred after a Charlotte television news station did a search on the social networking site for people who identified themselves as staff members of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The unidentified teacher, who teaches at Thomasboro Elementary School, which has 94 percent of its students in the free lunch program, wrote in her Facebook page, "I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte."

Four other teachers in the district are also being disciplined for statements and photos posted to their Facebook pages.

The incident has generated a discussion among teachers, parents, administrators, and privacy advocates regarding free speech for teachers, what district policy should be allowed to mandate about teachers' involvements in social networking sits, and the definition of what's really private in online settings.

Among comments made to The Charlotte Observer article, several posters suggested that firing was too harsh a punishment for the Thomasboro teacher.

"The teacher probably didn't understand the privacy settings on her Facebook account. Information you post can be either publicly viewable or something that is just seen by your friends. She probably thought what she was posting was private, but left the default settings on to let everyone see your profile," commented BluNews. "A lot of people unknowingly do this. That said, the teacher messed up and certainly diminished her ability to teach her kids. I'm not sure if firing her is the right thing to do, but she should be disciplined. Also, I doubt this is the last time we'll hear about something like this. School systems should set policy on issues like this and warn teachers that negative postings about their jobs could lead to disciplinary actions."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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