Manatee school district may restrict what teachers say on Facebook and other social sites

1:07 PM, Sep 23, 2010   |    comments
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Bradenton, Florida - A Manatee County teacher is suspended for posting on his Web page he hated his students, his job and hated going to work. The district has suspended him for five days with no pay.

Manatee is following the lead of other school districts and considering guidelines on what teachers and staff can and can't say on social media sites.

"I think a lot of it is common sense. We wouldn't go out and talk to a news reporter and say we're unhappy with out job and our kids," says biology teacher Jennifer O'Connor.

The Bayshore High School teacher gets along well with her students... so well, she often gets friend requests on her Facebook page. "I say I have no student on Facebook policy, email me again when you graduate," says O'Connor.

The Bayshore High School teacher also limits what she says about her job and school administrators on Facebook. "Venting should take place in person, outside of school... not a social networking situation," explains O'Connor. She adds, "Even if you don't have students on Facebook, parents or coworkers somebody can see the information somebody is going to find it."

Click here to read proposed policy.

O'Connor is right in line with Manatee school district's proposed policy on social media sites. The policy covers all electronic media use but also focuses on social media sites. The proposed policy prohibits teachers and staff from posting comments, documents or pictures that "might cast the employee, the students or the district in a negative, scandalous or embarrassing light."

"By saying those things we were talking about 'I hate my job, hate my kids, hate coming to work,' that's not protected speech, it affects your ability to do your job," says John Bowen, attorney for the Manatee School District.

Randall Marshall with Florida's ACLU disagrees, "A regulation that prohibits teachers from saying something negative violates the First Amendment."

"You wouldn't get in front of the class and say 'I hate coming to work.' It's inappropriate," says Bowen.

"In the school district's proposed policy, school administrators acknowledge social media sites like Facebook can be a learning tool for students provided parents know about it first. That's why teachers would be required to send home a parent consent form 10 days before any internet contact with students."

O'Connor helps run a Facebook page for the school's Key Club. The page is closed to non-members and monitored by her and club officers. Under the proposed policy, O'Connor would need to get parental consent to have internet contact with student through an outside website.

The Manatee School Board will take its first look at the proposed policy at Monday, September 27th, board meeting. The board will decide then if it will move forward with the policy and schedule a public hearing before taking a vote.

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