School Fires Teacher for Social Media Communication with Students

    This defense case involves the alleged wrongful termination of a teacher. The plaintiff, a teacher at a rural high school, engaged in a class project where she ‘friended’ a number of students from her personal Facebook. Though there was no explicit content in the messages directed to her students, other posts on her account included profane acronyms and mildly sexual personal photos. Additionally, a memo from the school’s administration prohibited email and digital communications with students from personal accounts. The school received word of the teacher’s interactions with the students and terminated her.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. Is a teacher disallowed from interacting with students of her class via Facebook?

    Expert Witness Response

    This question is becoming more important as the prevalence of social networking is increasing. There is not the extreme stigma that there used to be, but many school districts still feel that such interactions create too much potential for misinterpretation and inappropriate content. Since Facebook is a social site that includes personal information regarding relationship status and family photos, many feel that being “friends” outside the classroom closes the respectful distance in the student-teacher dynamic. However, many teachers see Facebook as a valuable venue for enriching education by communicating relevant articles and career opportunities to their students. Teachers who wish to connect with their students educationally through the internet should create a separate professional Facebook account or use other, more professional sites. While an analysis of the teacher’s messages (and whether they were private or posted on the student’s message walls) must be conducted, based on the mild profanity and pictures found on the teacher’s personal site, this may be grounds for termination.

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