Should a teacher’s Facebook posts ruin her career?

A former high school teacher is suing a north Georgia school district, alleging she was forced to resign over photos and expletives on Facebook.

Facebook.0607 (Medium)

Illustrations by PAUL LACHINE / NewsArt

Ashley Payne contends that the Barrow County school district violated state labor law because she was never told she was entitled to a hearing. Her attorney, Richard Storrs, says the 24-year-old former Apalachee High School teacher was “not made aware of her rights” and should be granted the hearing.

After teaching at the school for two years, Payne resigned in August after her principal questioned her about her Facebook page, which included photos of her holding wine and beer and an expletive.

(Payne told the Athens Banner Herald it was the “B” word that landed her in hot water with her principal. She posted it in the context of saying she was going to an Atlanta restaurant that featured a game called Crazy “B” Bingo.  Here is a link to the bars that hold Crazy Bxxxx Bingo games.)

The more I learn about this case, I have to wonder who’s crazy here.

Unless the school system has other concerns about this teacher, I can’t understand how her Facebook page content – which would be tame for even my mother – would get her fired.

Barrow has a policy that states employees can be investigated and disciplined for postings on Web sites that contain provocative photographs, sexually explicit messages, use of alcohol, drugs or anything students are prohibited from doing. And the policy allows for termination for such transgressions.

According to the Barrow Journal:

According to the court filing, [principal] McGee informed Payne that the school system strongly disapproved of her activity on the popular social networking site Facebook. Specifically, McGee objected to photos which showed Payne holding alcoholic beverages while on vacation and a status update which used a pejorative term for females.
Allegedly McGee then told Payne that her online conduct was unacceptable and that if she did not resign, she would be suspended. McGee further advised that a suspension would adversely affect her chances for future employment. The filing states that McGee told Payne that she “could not win this” and that resignation was her best option.

As a result of the meeting, Payne resigned from the school system immediately.

The lawsuit states that Payne was not informed of her right to a hearing, nor was it disclosed that a suspension could only be for a period of ten days. As a result, Payne claimed her resignation was wrongfully coerced by McGee.

Frankly, given the sex tapes that folks are making and sending (Miss California, for instance) and the other outrageous stuff on the Internet, does this case warrant removal of the teacher?

And should teachers be accountable for what they do off hours as long as their conduct is legal?

143 comments Add your comment

Really?

November 10th, 2009
2:10 pm

What was the “expletive”?

This seems pretty stupid to me. I understand they are held to a higher accountability because they instruct our youth, but firing someone over holding wine and beer. It seems that there is something deeper going on here.

It is important to point out, the younger and more involved in internet social networking a new employee is, than the more of these actions will be warranted. The district is setting a firm line now, however dismissal of an employee over this is a bit extreme. This precedent is dangerous.

Let’s consider if she was a good teacher and role model first. If so, do we want to remove them from the education system? Especially considering Georgia’s National ranking.

EducationCEO

November 10th, 2009
2:17 pm

Absurd. The million dollar question should be: Who did she piss off? The principal, another teacher, etc.? Who was on her page anyway? Someone (a busybody) with nothing else to do trying to find some dirt on her? Or, did they need to create a position for a coach and realize that she was the ‘weakest link’ and therefore, an easy target? I am really tired of people thinking that teachers are not entitled to having lives outside of the classroom/school setting. Every other profession can go and do what they want withouth having these extra, unneccessary standards placed upon them. Yes, teacher are important in our communities but they are also human beings. She may have posted some explicit photos (and she should know better considering how vulnerable social sites are to hackers) but it was not cause to fire her. If she does not get her job back, then every woman in Education who has ever slept with her boss (principal) to get special favors, e.g., coming to work late everyday, leaving early, promotions, etc., should also be fired. Furthermore, every school employee who has ever engaged in an extra-marital affair should also be fired. There would certainly be a lot of teaching positions available in Georgia’s schools. Dust-off your resumes!

E

November 10th, 2009
2:17 pm

If she was a good teacher otherwise, it would seem more productive to inform her of policies and have the Facebook material removed or made private so students would not access it. Of course, it’s hard to say from the details… did she show this page to students? Was it listed by school or some similar keyword? Of course, most people I work with just take it for granted that if a social network’s profile is public, coworkers (and students for school positions) WILL see it eventually. Either make it anonymous (carefully), make it private, or make it clean – for almost any sort of job.

Maureen Downey

November 10th, 2009
2:20 pm

The Barrow Journal describes the expletive as a “pejorative term for females.”
But should the word matter?
She did not say it to the class.
Maureen

V for Vendetta

November 10th, 2009
2:22 pm

This is ridiculous. Although I have to wonder why her page wasn’t set to “private.” How did this come to light?

Kevin

November 10th, 2009
2:23 pm

She had a drink on vacation. Big whoop. I doubt that a student even saw that photo, being that she would have had to “friend” that student to allow him/her to see it. I’d be willing to guess that co-worker of Ms Payne’s became “facebook friends” with her and turned her in. I’d let her teach my kid, as long as she was qualified/certified. Unless there are other issues, this situation only required a “stern talking to.” Kids make mistakes, she made a perfectly legal one.

Maureen Downey

November 10th, 2009
2:28 pm

To Really, It appears she used the B word.

To V, The further details below are from the Athens Banner Herald: http://onlineathens.com/stories/111009/new_514612877.shtml

McGee questioned her about her Facebook page, which included pictures of her holding glasses of wine and beer and about using bad language, Payne said.

“He said that if it was just the language or just the pictures, I might be OK,” Payne said. “But with both, there was no way I could win.

“He said I should resign, or he would suspend me, and I thought at the time that he had the authority to suspend me. He strongly advised me to do it.”

Payne had taught literature to ninth- and 10th-graders at the school for two years. She had no other complaints against her, and still doesn’t know who alerted the school about her Facebook page.

“There’s so much focus on this one little thing in my personal life, and nothing on the good things I had done there,” Payne said. “I didn’t do anything unethical or immoral. I didn’t use that kind of language or act that way in the classroom.”

Payne’s lawsuit claims McGee had his administrator help Payne write her resignation letter and gave her no warning of the complaint, forcing her to make a decision on the spot.

Storrs and Payne asked the school district in September to rescind her resignation and grant her a hearing. State law requires a school district to provide the teacher with a written notice of alleged charges and a hearing before the local school board.

The district denied the request, Storrs said.

“They weren’t willing to do anything about the situation,” he said.

Payne contends that her Facebook profile is private and should not have been visible to students and their parents.

Facebook is a social networking Web site that allows members and their friends to upload photos and send messages that other friends can see.

The pictures of Payne holding drinks were taken while she was on vacation in Europe over the summer, she said. On one message, she wrote, “Going to Bxxxx BINGO,” the name of a game played at an Atlanta restaurant.

“What she said on there was pretty innocuous, and they overreacted,” Storrs said.

Meme

November 10th, 2009
2:40 pm

She was not really forced to make a decision on the spot but I am sure she felt like it. She should never have resigned. However, I think she should have known what her rights were and not whine that no one told her she could have a hearing.

Lisa

November 10th, 2009
2:50 pm

I think that what a person does after work or on their web pages is their own business and big brother needs to keep out of it. They are invading our privacy, trying to dictate what we do and how we live. When will it stop?

Maureen Downey

November 10th, 2009
2:55 pm

Lisa, I don’t know where it will stop but it seems it should stop way short of going after a teacher for a vacation photo showing her with a glass in her hand and a statement she made about going to play “B” bingo somewhere.
Maureen

Private school guy

November 10th, 2009
3:03 pm

The last time I checked beer and wine were legal in Georgia. This is way out of control. I hope she sues and collects big time.

njdramateacher

November 10th, 2009
3:19 pm

Hey, she should come up here to NJ if she loses her case in GA. Up here, we have school board members, principals, teachers…all of them with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Friendster…you name it. Some even have pics with their hands all over students, smoking, drinking..you name it.

azcat225

November 10th, 2009
3:31 pm

And you would know all of that how, “Meme”? Were you there doing the transcribing of the meeting? A second year teacher hasn’t had the need (yet) to know what her rights are—she is still just concentrating on teaching. After a teacher has been in the system for a while, and most likely burned by one of the Meme’s of the world, they get much wiser. The guess about freeing up room for a new coach sounds about right to me.

Laura

November 10th, 2009
3:34 pm

Well, this is a bit ignorant. If alcohol consumption is legal for me to do, then what is the big deal? It’s not having alcohol on campus in front of your students. I’m sure that their parents drink anyway. God forbid a teacher do or have a life outside of school.

Rules of thumb – always make your profile private, never EVER friend students, and make sure that if you do add co-workers as friends, they’re ones you’re actually really friends with.

Regardless of what she did, this whole thing is absurd.

Teacher, Too

November 10th, 2009
3:42 pm

If you are of the age of 21 or older, it is legal to drink. It is absurd that a teacher, who is presumably 21 or older, to be fired for having a picture of her consuming an adult beverage. She was not doing anything illegal.

M I am 43 years old; if I want a glass or wine or a beer, I am allowed to have it. I would NEVER drink at school or attend a school function after having an alcoholic beverage. That is in violation of the ethics code, and would cost me my job.

However, my Facebook page does have pictures of me with an adult beverage. One of my friends took the pictures at tailgate and posted them. If someone turns in my Facebook page and I get fired, I will file a law suit. I don’t friend students, and I have “unfriended” anyone of my “teacher” friends that has friended students. I keep my page as private as I can, and I am careful with whom I accept as friends.

When my students ask me why I won’t friend them, I tell them there is a line, and they are not my friends yet. When they graduate from high school, we can discuss “being friended.”

Magenta

November 10th, 2009
4:07 pm

We are becoming such a puritanical society. Less than 100 years ago, female teachers weren’t allowed to be married and their movements were watched and judged. We’re going backward in a hurry. When I went to school, it was sort of a thrill to catch teachers being “human.” Having a beer during a school outing, being able to read the cigarette label through a shirt pocket, hearing them use salty language in the faculty lounge, or even glimpsing a bottle of Schenley’s in someone’s suitcase during an overnight trip (yes, I still remember the brand!!). It was exotic; it made us feel like we were grown-up enough to understand this side of our teachers. I am NOT talking about inviting kids over to your house and giving them alcohol or any boundary-crossing. I’m just saying that for kids to see the adult side of their ADULT teachers (I mean, they couldn’t be teachers unless they were over 21, right??) doesn’t do kids any harm. We’re trying to reduce all of society to a Romper-Room level, and all it’s going to do is turn everybody into a bunch of finger-pointing hypocrites. I’d love to see what the teacher’s BOSS does in his or her spare time. Probably something much more interesting than what was shown on the Facebook page.

NA

November 10th, 2009
4:09 pm

This may violate some code of conduct. Teachers organizations have always advised teachers to keep their profile pages private. I do not accept friend requests from students, parents or even some colleagues. She does have a case about her rights being violated in the process. She also should have known not to resign when being confronted in this way.I think we could all benefit by being a little more careful about what we post in public for the world to see.

RJ

November 10th, 2009
4:40 pm

She should so sue!!!! This standard that some want teachers to live by is absurd. Yes, I will have a drink. I’ll never forget when a student saw me sitting in my car at the local package store (in my parents neighborhood, not where I taught) while my husband went inside. He came back the following Monday to tell everyone that he saw me at the liquor store. My question…what were YOU doing there? Enough said. His mom drinks, so do I.

I hope she is able to get her job back or least a LOT of money. But…teachers beware. I have known others to get into lots of trouble over photos. Keep your pages private. Or keep 2, one for co-workers and one for real friends. Some parents have nothing better to do than to look for a teachers page and cause problems!

catlady

November 10th, 2009
4:59 pm

Is this system JUST as aggressive in booting out KIDS who use the “n” word, the “f” word, and the “b” word? I doubt it. And the kids use this language AT SCHOOL.

catlady

November 10th, 2009
5:07 pm

I also hope she gets a lot of money, a public appology which she posts on her facebook site, and serious consequences against the administrators. A colleague got burned by this a week or so ago: she got called in about something she had posted on her page about how poorly school was going this year! Geeze!

kelvin

November 10th, 2009
5:49 pm

I know of a teacher who was fired because he was invited to a graduation Bar-b-Que (after the graduation) from one of the parents. While there he had a beer and there were ‘current’ students at the party. So the students were able to see their own parents, grand parents, family and students parents drink – but not the teachers…crazy. Yes, if teachers were doing something illegal – then yes, but c’mon.

connie

November 10th, 2009
5:56 pm

My kids go to this school and for the most part it is a good school. I like the faculty and staff and so do my kids. I think this is stupid. What she does on her own time and away from the kids is her business. Unless she is drinking while teaching I do not see an issue. She is of legal age and allowed to enjoy her free time however she chooses as long as she is not breaking the law. She is not a nun she is a public high school teacher. This is about as ridiculous as it gets!! How do you expect to get and keep decent caring teachers on the pay they make if we railroad them for having a life!!!

plc

November 10th, 2009
6:05 pm

How does anyone expect us to prepare students to be ready for careers in the 21st century when they us to be in the 17th? I keep my facebook private, but have a twitter account for students to follow to remind them of big tests, assignments, etc.

This could set a horrible precedent for teachers using technology with students and more importantly, invading teachers’ lives. I’m very careful to keep my private life and my school life separate, and the district should allow me to do that.

Lee

November 10th, 2009
6:23 pm

Just another example of why many have lost confidence in the public school systems. Idiot administrators who develop a Napoleon complex.

Contrast that with the private sector where there are pictures of me drinking at a COMPANY function. Hell, the company furnished the drinks.

Glad this young lady got a lawyer. Maybe she can get some satisfaction from this sorry ordeal.

Courtney

November 10th, 2009
6:50 pm

Open & Shut lawsuit. I can see all the lawyers running up to Barrow right now. The taxpayers of barrow are about to take it in the rear. This principal should be fired RIGHT NOW!

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Talk to the Hand

November 10th, 2009
7:45 pm

People should be careful what they post on Face book and My Space. It is not just the photos, and language that can show up and bite you on the behind. But what applications you allow to be posted on your profile. What one person might not find so bad his neighbor might be offended by. If she was dumb enough to become a fan of the school or of something connected to the school anybody who was a fan to, can sometimes see your profile. Or if she posted something on another friends profile somebody else who was a friend of that friend could see what she had posted there. The best bet would have been to be very careful what was posted. once out there in computer land it can never be totally removed.

Starlights

November 10th, 2009
7:51 pm

This sounds like a case where the school went a bit too far. Having a personal life is not a crime, even for a teacher. I applaud her bravery having the guts to stand up to the system. No one deserves to be treated this way for having a life outside of work, it’s pretty sad when we live in country that affords us these rights and freedoms and they are trampled on be those who can’t lighten up and have a little fun in their own lives. Here is a school district that apparently just drops the hammer on a teacher for having a life and yet they fail to even follow proper procedure themselves for looking into the facts of the matter. I am sure there is plenty some of these hypocrites that forced her out have done much worse themselves than posting a funny -G rated- picture on a face book page, a picture on face book? you deserve to lose your job over that? sheer overkill, pretty outrageous if you ask me, she should get her job back, a nice settlement for damages and a raise, nothing less.

Meme

November 10th, 2009
8:28 pm

azcat225 Stupid is as stupid does. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. I agree that she should sue but she shouldn’t whine about resigning because she didn’t know. That sounds like an excuse one of my 8th graders would use.

Meme

November 10th, 2009
8:31 pm

Oh, and azcat225, no I wasn’t there but I don’t think she was tortured into resigning. She could have said no just as easily as she said yes.

Old fart

November 10th, 2009
9:00 pm

“Barrow has a policy that states employees can be investigated and disciplined for postings on Web sites that contain provocative photographs, sexually explicit messages, use of alcohol, drugs or anything students are prohibited from doing. And the policy allows for termination for such transgressions.”

Part of her contract I assume. Whine all you want, but she knew the rules.

Resolve

November 11th, 2009
12:42 am

I agree with her firing. These students need responsible adults not more friends!!!!!

catlady

November 11th, 2009
7:21 am

Now, if you want to address teacher behavior, send home teachers who are too upset to be there because of divorce, etc. My daughter lost months of good instruction in calculus her senior year because her teacher was going through a difficult divorce. He would even cry in class! I have overheard teachers having fights on the cell phone with their husbands or children. They should be sent home.

Don’t bring your private business to school!

catlady

November 11th, 2009
7:22 am

And, schools, stay out of teachers’ private business!

Spexis

November 11th, 2009
7:25 am

Resolve, where did anyone mention that she was “friends” with the students??? Having your picture taken with a drink in your hand while on vacation makes you an irresponsible adult??? PUHLEEEZE!

Joy in Teaching

November 11th, 2009
7:33 am

While I think her being forced to resign is unfortunate and wrong, teachers in Georgia who do not have tenure can be fired for absolutely no reason at all. She did not have tenure after only teaching for 2 years. She should probably pay attention during preplanning when that sort of thing is gone over in faculty meetings.

Jennifer

November 11th, 2009
7:41 am

No firing. The issue has nothing to do with classroom performance. Morality police in action. Or someone who wants to offer your job to a friend. Or required cutbacks under another name. Or an attempt to fire for performance based on a benign issue. Get your job and pay back.

Teacher Hubby

November 11th, 2009
8:40 am

Here’s one that will blow your mind. My wife is a teacher, and we are also a couple who frequent some of the swinging bars here in atlanta. Also belong to a couple of swinging websites. Of all the couples we have met over the past few years TEACHERS are by far the most common occupation, for women atleast, of the swinging community.. Whatcha think about that?? Though with all this talk about the trouble this poor girl got into makes me want to go back and remove some of our pics on said websites. Course you have to be over 21 to create an account, I wouldnt be suprised to see someone in the county dept paying the fee just to get in there and see if they know anyone. Ok then, back to just ass shots ;)

In The Know

November 11th, 2009
8:50 am

I agree with EducationCEO 100%!!! I am sure a Coach needing hiring and she was the weakest link. She probably was a professional and professionally dressed and the principal did not like it. The principal must have had some vendetta because she would not sleep with him or he had something else to hold over her head. This is totally absurd! Wake up citizens! There is “Monkey” business going on in EVERY public school. This principal should be fired for simply not knowing that his teachers have rights and are entitled to a hearing. What in the World has Education come to and where in the world are we headed? Lord Have Mercy!!!!!!!!!!

In The Know

November 11th, 2009
8:55 am

Teacher Hubby, I sure wish I had more information on the “Swinging”! I have heard about this and wish I had some pictures! Now, how would that look on the front page of the AJC? I know a few of those swingers in North Metro School Districts that need to be exposed!!!!!

In The Know

November 11th, 2009
9:00 am

Teacher Hubby, I sure wish I had some pictures of those swingers! I have heard that this goes on. How would those pictures look on the front page of the AJC? I know that there are many swinging principals, superintendents, teachers, para-pros, secretaries,etc.. in the North Metro School districts that are into swinging.. Let’s Make a Deal!!!!!!!!

In The Know

November 11th, 2009
9:02 am

To Teacher Hubby, Expose those North Metro School District Swingers! Let’s Make a Deal!!!!!!!!!!

Anti-Resolve

November 11th, 2009
9:43 am

Resolve tell me what she did wrong? That would be like saying a teacher is not allowed to have a drink at a bar in Athens…..during a Georgia game. Is she not allowed to socialize like an adult……How bout you lose your job because you stubbed your toe and said a expletive out loud. Get a clue!!!!

I don't know about this

November 11th, 2009
10:00 am

As was said earlier, if she doen’t have tenure, they do not have to give a reason for firing her. Maybe she wore the wrong color shoes one day.

Not a Georgia fan

November 11th, 2009
10:02 am

I am a teacher and I have had many beers at tailgate parties. It never occurred to me that I was putting myself in danger of being fired.

JH

November 11th, 2009
11:24 am

“Should a teacher’s Facebook posts ruin her career?” NO … but the publicity that she is so desperately seeking after the fact is doing just that. She should have forgotten about a lawsuit, which she will more than likely loose, and move on. There are no teacher “unions” to protect her (from herself) and she wasn’t tenured. GA is a “right to fire” state.

If she is a good teacher, she would have been able to find another job with no problem. Now she is going to be viewed as a trouble-maker and more than likely damaging her “career” as she continues to speak out. Sometimes people don’t realize they are their own “worst enemy”.

In The Know

November 11th, 2009
11:36 am

JH, I disagree! Teachers should feel free to speak out on their behalf! Politics, Politics, Politics……… Sick, Sick, Sick!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I hate Whiners!

November 11th, 2009
12:27 pm

I HOPE this woman wins this lawsuit and is paid HEAVILY! I hate that we’ve become so weak-minded we can’t even let adults be adults!! Just because YOU had unprotected sex that produced a kid doesn’t mean that SHE can’t drink or curse in her off-time! GET OVER IT nut-jobs!!

Meanie

November 11th, 2009
12:28 pm

JH, I love your last line. Sometimes people don’t realize they are their own “worst enemy”.