Thursday, January 24, 2013

Silly Teacher - Jails are for Convicts

Jail cell painting by ABN2, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ABN2 

Have you heard about Jennifer O'Brien? She's the teacher from the City of Paterson (NJ) school district who was recently fired for her musings about students on Facebook.

In case you missed the details, Ms. O'Brien was 4 months in to her tenure as a first grade teacher when she posted the following to Facebook:

"I'm not a teacher - I'm a warden for future criminals!"
"The had a scared straight program in school - why couldn't [I] bring [first] graders?"

The comments didn't go over so well with parents, administrators, reports, or the public in general.  O'Brien, who will now hold a spot in our Teacher's Hall of Shame, was discharged.

Eric B. Meyer, a lawyer and blogger, recounted the trial,

At her tenure hearing before the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, the court upheld the firing in this opinion. It emphasized that O'Brien's postings were not entitled to any First Amendment protection, because she was engaged in "personal expression" of dissatisfaction with her job and was not addressing a matter of public concern.

The Court added that even if the comments were a matter of public concern, the district's need to operate its schools efficiently trumped O'Brien's right to express her views on Facebook. Indeed, it becomes "impossible for parents to cooperate with or have faith in a teacher who insults their children and trivializes legitimate educational concerns on the internet."
 Principals you can share a few things from this case:

  1. Remind teachers that First Amendment rights do not extend to insulting your students and disrupting the educational milieu;
  2. While you're at it, remind them not to act like dumb-asses on Facebook;
  3. If you're faced with a similar situation, deal with it quickly and decisively.  Parents and the press will find out and you'll have to answer for it.  

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