November 12, 2008

Charlotte teachers face action because of Facebook postings

CHARLOTTE -- A Thomasboro Elementary School teacher faces firing for posting derogatory comments about students on Facebook, while four other Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers have been disciplined for posts involving "poor judgment and bad taste," spokeswoman Nora Carr said Tuesday.

Charlotte television station WCNC turned up questionable pages on the social networking site by searching for people who identified themselves as CMS employees.

The Thomasboro teacher listed "teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte" as one of her activities and drinking as one of her hobbies.

In her "About Me" section she wrote: "I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte."

Most of Thomasboro's students are minorities from low-income homes. The teacher has been suspended with pay, and Superintendent Peter Gorman has recommended firing her, Carr said. The dismissal is not final because teachers have a right to appeal.

Reporter Jeff Campbell of WCNC said he showed district officials pages involving seven CMS teachers. Carr said four faced unspecified discipline that is less than suspension or dismissal. She would not provide details about the offensive material, but the pages Campbell submitted included photos of female teachers in sexually suggestive poses and a black male teacher who listed "Chillin wit my nas!!!" as an activity and had a suggestive exchange with a female "Facebook friend" accompanying a shirtless photo of himself.

CMS is still reviewing the case of a high-school special-education teacher who used a Facebook "mood box" to post "I'm feeling ped because I hate my students!"

District officials are working on a memo reminding all 19,000 employees that information they post on the Web can be viewed by the public and should be appropriate.

"When you're in a professional position, especially one where you're interacting with children and parents, you need to be above reproach," Carr said.

The teachers in question chose to identify their employer and skipped an option that blocks public viewing of their pages. "I think they just didn't think these things through," Carr said. "That's kind of mind-boggling."

Investigator checks pages

CMS has an investigator who specializes in online issues, including reports of inappropriate material posted by students about teachers. Carr said "several" employees a year are disciplined for inappropriate posts. The district generally responds to tips and complaints, rather than randomly viewing pages.

CMS and other school districts check Web sites, especially popular networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, before hiring, Carr said.

Teachers across the country have faced similar situations -- enough so that NEA Today, the journal of the National Education Association, earlier this year published a roundup. It included a Colorado English teacher fired for posting her sexually explicit poetry on MySpace, a Florida band director fired for a MySpace profile that included "his musings about sex, drugs and depression," and a Virginia art teacher fired for posting photos of his "butt art," done by painting his private parts and pressing them onto canvas.

Last fall, according to NEA Today, the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch found teachers writing about sex, drugs and drinking on their MySpace profiles.

"There's an old lawyer's saw that goes something like this: Never put in writing anything that you wouldn't want read in open court or by your mother," concludes the article, written by Michael Simpson of the NEA's legal office.

"Maybe it's time for an updated adage: Never put in electronic form anything that you wouldn't want viewed by a million people, including your colleagues, students, and supervisors -- and your mother."

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