Facebook flap in Barrow raises troubling fairness issues

I was going to wait until Monday to post this column but I am putting the piece up now as I think this story deserves a healthy dose of sunshine. To grasp this entire bizarre story, please read my two earlier related posts, especially the one right below  on the anonymous e-mail that set this whole tragicomedy in motion.

Ashley Payne posted 700 Facebook photos of her European vacation; she says only 10 showed her with alcohol

Ashley Payne posted 700 Facebook photos of her European vacation; she says only 10 showed her with alcohol

After her three-week trip to Europe this summer, Barrow County teacher Ashley Payne posted 700 photos to Facebook. Ten of those photos showed her in pubs and beer gardens.
Payne’s Facebook page is set to a high privacy level and is accessible only to friends to whom she has granted access. Recognizing her position as a role model, Payne says she has never allowed access to students or parents at Apalachee High School, where she taught.

Believing that only her adult friends could see her postings, Payne also felt comfortable posting a brief comment on Aug. 26 announcing that she was headed out to play “Crazy Bitch Bingo,” a popular game played weekly at a Midtown restaurant.

But by the next morning, someone had sent an anonymous e-mail to the Barrow superintendent. The e-mailer claimed to be a parent whose daughter had access to Payne’s Facebook page. The daughter had allegedly seen both the note about bingo and “unacceptable photos” of Payne “smiling with alcohol for all her online friends to view.”

“Her behavior is intolerable,” wrote the e-mailer.

Less than two hours later, Payne was sitting in the assistant principal’s office, where she was pressured to resign. According to Barrow spokeswoman Lisa Leighton, the incident demonstrates the high standard of conduct to which school employees are held.

Initially, the school system told me that it would not reveal the name of the mother who sent the e-mail  to protect her privacy. But it turns out that Barrow has no idea who sent the e-mail or whether the parent or daughter even exist.

The e-mail itself reads as though it was written by another teacher rather than by a parent.

When summoned into the meeting with principal David McGee and assistant principal Dorann Mansberger, Payne acknowledged the posting of vacation photos and her use of the word “bitch.” But she pointed out that she had never allowed students or parents access to her Facebook page.

Payne is now suing to get her job back.

According to court documents filed by the district in response to the lawsuit, “Mr. McGee told Plaintiff that she would be suspended and her conduct reported to the Professional Standards Committee. Plaintiff asked if she could resign.”

At that point, however, the stories diverge. McGee says that Payne volunteered to resign. Payne says she was coerced.

“There was no mention of a warning,” Payne said. “No ‘Could you please take these things down?’ I was told, ‘We are going to have to suspend you and your only other option is to resign.’”

“At no time did I tell her she had to resign,” countered McGee in a statement released by Barrow officials. In that statement, McGee concedes that he presented Payne with some dire scenarios:

“She asked about options and I told her she always had the option of resigning. I told her that I had no idea what the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) would do. I told her I had seen suspensions, fines and loss of teaching certificates.”

If such a case had indeed been forwarded to the standards commission — an anonymous e-mail, with no proof that a child was actually involved, complaining about photos of American tourists sitting in beer gardens and the use of the word “bitch” — it should have been laughed off as groundless.

The fact that instead a school system reacted so recklessly and quickly — with no apparent skepticism whatsoever — finally helps me understand how so many people fall for those Nigerian e-mail scams.

In several conversations with the Barrow spokeswoman, I was told that the critical issue wasn’t the vacation photos or Payne’s use of an expletive. Instead, it was the “fact” that she had given a student inappropriate access to her personal Facebook account.

A “fact” for which there is no evidence whatsoever.

This is the Internet folks. The “concerned parent” could have been anybody: an old boyfriend, a jealous teacher, a nutcase. Barrow administrators didn’t know anything about the sender of the poison e-mail.

But they did know Payne.

A 2007 University of Georgia honors graduate, Payne had taught at the high school for two years. She seemed to do fine; her students posted higher End of Course Test scores than the county average. (McGee seems to agree, writing: “Ashley has completed two satisfactory years at Apalachee High School.”)

A confused Payne now wonders whether she had unknowingly crossed some line with her boss, noting that she had met with McGee a week earlier to lament that he had never observed her class.  But she did not think that conversation might contribute to the loss of her job.

According to Leighton, the Barrow spokeswoman, the county had recently unearthed a policy for teachers dating back to 1938. Those antiquated rules required that unmarried female teachers live with families and never be seen outside after dark. Seen from the perspective of 70 years later, those rules seem preposterous, Leighton said.

But it doesn’t take the perspective of 70 years or even 70 seconds to recognize that the policy that entrapped Payne is ludicrous, dangerous and unfair.

96 comments Add your comment

Ernest

November 13th, 2009
5:40 pm

Look for this to be settled out of court. She has a STRONG case and I want to believe their legal counsel will advise the district to settle this quickly and quietly.

Jeff

November 13th, 2009
8:09 pm

I’ve faced similar crap both when I was teaching and in the workplace after teaching. I no longer allow co-workers or anyone associated with work access to my personal pages, and I watch what I put out there on my public pages.

Payne should sue that system for every penny they have, and if the taxpayers complain she should point out that they should have elected better leadership to begin with. What a teacher does outside of school is NO ONE at the school’s business. PERIOD.

V for Vendetta

November 13th, 2009
9:05 pm

Maureen,

I want to applaud you. Your handling of this issue has been swift, professional, and, in my humble opinion, timely and appropriate. We are constantly inundated with threats in regards to what will happen to us if we are caught posting anything inappropriate on the most popular social networking sights. Many of the moderators of such meetings–board members, principals, administrators–flat out tell us not to have such pages or to delete them. It’s not an order, but it’s a strong suggestion. We all know what they mean.

The actions of Barrow County schools and the administration at Apalachee High School are unconscionable. They should be taken to task, and Ms Payne should receive a sizable monetary award to cover both personal and professional damages.

Thank you, Maureen, for championing this woman’s individual rights. I hope this case opens up a new level of discussion on the topic of teachers’ private lives versus their professional lives and the unconstitutionality of some counties’ “morality clauses.” Best of luck to Ms. Payne as she fights this battle. In some ways, she’s fighting for all of us.

Marc Vogel

November 13th, 2009
9:36 pm

The BOE needs to loosen up! This is almost as ridiculous as suspending a kid for having an asthma inhaler. God help me if I ever get pulled over while making a U turn in a school parking lot…I always have a loaded gun in the car LOL ! I’m serious.

RickY

November 13th, 2009
9:55 pm

One more case of a school system overreacting, not exercising common sense, and pandering to anyone who, heaven forbids, complains about anything. I would understand if this were a public Facebook or Myspace site with actually inappropriate pictures. It’s not like she was smoking pot or dancing around half naked. Having a drink in a bar is not illegal if you are of age.

Barrow hypocrisy

November 13th, 2009
9:59 pm

Where is Barrow county anyway? Is it one of those places where time stood still? It sure sounds like it.

Warrior and Mom

November 13th, 2009
10:27 pm

She is pretty, smart, and has a jealous co-worker. If she were black, she would be promoted to principal.

Scared educator

November 13th, 2009
11:36 pm

I guess teachers are not allowed to have a life. I realize some of us have done horrible things, but it is so unfair that the rest of us are under such a painful microscope. The respect for teachers is gone.

Damo

November 14th, 2009
12:04 am

Why even have a stupid Facebook page if you’re expected to be on your best behavior for the rest of your life. I like to be be able to do what I want, when I want with who i want without anyone else knowing about it. That’s why I don’t do Facebook. I like my freedom.

I Live In Barrow County!

November 14th, 2009
1:42 am

and this doesn’t suprise me a bit. This county is full of ignorant backwoods fools. And the scary thing is, those are the ones in power. You’ll never find a tighter “Good Ol’ Boy” network than you will here. Anyone who has lived here for less than 50 years is an “outsider”, and if you don’t have the blessing of 2 very influential churches, or are a member of a few elite family clans, you can forget about running for an elected office.

The mistake the Apalachee teacher made is that she accepted a job in this school system. This is the last place a college honors graduate with exceptional performance reviews during her first 2 years of teaching should ever be. Achievement is highly discouraged ’round these parts….”that don’t matter none”. What matters is: “who is your Daddy?” Or “who was your Granddaddy?” Or failing either of those litmus tests, you may be accepted if you can verbally recited verbatim the entire New Testament without taking a breath.

If ignorance is bliss, you’ll never find a happier bunch of Bubbas than you will in Barrow County…..I KNOW!

SuzyQ

November 14th, 2009
8:27 am

Who eventually replaced this teacher? Since she was confronted in August, was this a sneaky way of letting a teacher go due to budget cuts, or lower enrollment, or did some higher up’s relative (school board member or front office administrator) need a job? Nepotism is alive and well in Georgia’s school systems.
I really feel for her. Imagine going to your job and upon your arrival you are confronted by two of your bosses with this accusation. I’m sure she was scared and resigned only because she did not know what else to do.

Public school mom

November 14th, 2009
8:35 am

This was a stupid knee-jerk reaction by Barrow County. She teaches high school for goodness sake. I am pretty unflappable, but when I walk the halls of my child’s high school some of the student comments and language can make me blush. Ms. Payne, DeKalb County Schools would love to have a smart, effective teacher who is certified to teach AP courses. Please apply.

One Striking RATTLER

November 14th, 2009
8:53 am

Warrior Mom please stop posting your divisive beliefs and go back to teaching your children how to hate. Thanks!

lhhal

November 14th, 2009
9:41 am

Good for her!!!

I only feel badly for one thing – What if she DOES get her job back (and she WILL)? Then, she’ll have to work for these creeps again! They will be making her miserable for the rest of her tenure with them, picking on things such as not having her ‘essential question’ up when she addresses a kid’s random question, placing her lesson plans 2 inches too far to the left on her desk, etc – they will terrorize her for asking for her job back.

She will be better off elsewhere, but they need to be found guilty in court!

I am soooo proud of her.

I would guess that the author of the email is a stuffy, older, heavy-set female teacher at the school. I would guess it is someone who is extremely jealous of her youth, attractiveness, intelligence, energy, talent, etc….Someone who feels like she used to be like her, but no longer has it in her. Or, someone who never did – someone who was always jealous of girls such as Ashley.

Ashley has her whole life ahead of her. I don’t want her to spend it miserably with these losers – both male (who try to dictate her every life move, and lie about their sources) and female (who ‘turn her in’ for being both intelligent and attractive).

But I DO want to see her sue, and I DO want to see her win. And then…I want to watch her take off and get a job elsewhere!

And why can’t they trace the source of the email?? Have they not checked the IP Address? It can be traced pretty well. Odds are it was sent FROM THE SCHOOL!! Have they not checked the IP Address to see if it came from one of the school computers? It should be checked, and if it is from a public, tax-funded computer – I demand that they use the surveillance system (unless the tape just happens to be lost, or malfunctioning that very day) to find out which teacher sent the email from a “concerned parent.”

.

November 14th, 2009
9:44 am

I wish she had known this blow was coming ahead of time, so that she could have taken in a tape recorder.

Teacher&mom

November 14th, 2009
1:56 pm

Maureen,
Look to see who replaced Ms. Payne. Was it a coaches wife or someone in the system whose child had just graduated from college and needed a job? This happens all the time to non-tenured teachers. I suspect that she was lead to believe that writing a letter of resignation was in her best interest. Here’s the talk given to non-tenured teachers….”We’re letting you go, we don’t have to give you a reason BUT we will let you write a letter of resignation. That way, you won’t have a non-renewal and/or firing in your employment history. Resign and you can work somewhere else. Try and fight the non-renewal/firing and you are basically closing the door on ever working in GA again.” Of course, most young teachers are frightened and don’t want to ruin their chances of another job in a different school district. They write the letter of resignation and move on to another system.

In my humble opinion, Bartow County deserves to be taken to the woodshed on this one. Even the PSC will not accept anonymous complaints. My 18 years in education in GA tells me that there is more to this story and that Ms. Payne is probably a victim of the good-ole’ boy system. She either stepped on the toes of the wrong person or the “right” person needed her job.

She has a hard fight ahead of her. I wish her luck.

Gee Willakers Wally

November 14th, 2009
2:03 pm

This Barrow County sounds as bad as Clayton County!

Dumb HICKS!

Rik

November 14th, 2009
2:28 pm

I think that this is indicative of the ignorance that permeates. While many millions have embraced social networking site, many millions more have not. I believe a huge number of those that have not possess an uniformed bias against such sites. They do not understand how it works and the safeguards that are available to protect privacy. Had they known this, they would realize that this could not have come from a student of parent directly. What’s worse is that this was caused by someone this teacher felt was a “friend”. This teacher deserves better. I only hope she will move to my kids’ district and be one of their teachers since she appears to be good at teaching – which is what you want in a teacher.

DJ Sniper

November 14th, 2009
2:32 pm

I love living in Atlanta, but I swear, this state can be soooooo backwards when it comes to certain things. You got people with absolutely retarded views on public transportation, you can’t vote on Sunday liquor sales due to non-progressive thinking politicians, and now this nonsense. It’s painfully obvious that common sense is not required to become a school administrator. This teacher should never have been given any grief over these pictures, and everybody involved in forcing her to resign should have some discipline handed out to them.

Warrior and Mom

November 14th, 2009
3:01 pm

I just wonder if there was a black woman as a replacement teacher…affirmitive action at its finest.

Mr. Thomas Anthony "The Taxman Cometh" Jones, SR (Waf-SS, ret.)

November 14th, 2009
3:06 pm

Mrs. Ashley payne has a constitutional reight to her privacy and these moton up in Barrow County should shut up. It is terrible that we let a group of people who are hypocrites ruin people lives> Please sue Mrs. Ashley payne and destroy the Barrow County Board of education. Also their are several individuals who I believe have federal and tax liens on them who are opposed to Mrs. Ashley Payne. These people should most definitely keep quiet and never ever criticize Mrs. Ashley Payne again!!!! And they need to file their Income Taxes, the hypocrites!!!!!

Mr. Thomas Anthony "The Taxman Cometh" Jones, SR (Waf-SS, ret.)

November 14th, 2009
3:09 pm

These morons up in Barropw County who are trying to destroy Mrs. Ashley payne disgust. They are hypocrites and phonies. I find it unreal that people who are liars are trying to destroy Mrs. Ashley Payne, yet their personal actions and failure to file their Income taxes speak for themselves. Again Mrs. Ashley Payne sue the barrow County Board of Education and destroy them totally!!!!!

catlady

November 14th, 2009
3:09 pm

I hope she will amend her lawsuit to request SIGNIFICANT damages, both from the system and from the individuals, since they were acting OUTSIDE their scope of employment. Also, I hope the GBI will be called in to investigate the source of the email and any charges applied to the sender if they are anything other than the parent of a student in her class and in addition they can show that they have been friended on Facebook. There are penalties that could and should be applied, including loss of income.

It is time we quit putting up with this (stuff).

What?

November 14th, 2009
3:11 pm

@Warrior and Mom,

I really feel sorry for your kids, toots.

QueenBea

November 14th, 2009
3:18 pm

It’s ironic that teachers are expected to be Jesus while nothing is ever expected of parents who do drugs in front of kids, abuse their kids and neglect them at times…Not every parent is this way but it amazes me the life they expect teachers to lead….If you cannot be in a picture drinking beer..can you drink beer….what if a child came into applebees with a parent while a teacher is drinking a beer? Then what…teachers are not different than workers at walmart…this is stupid on so many levels

LOL@Barrow County

November 14th, 2009
3:27 pm

I really can’t believe she was fired over going to a restaurant in midtown to play bitch bingo OR having her picture taken drinking alcohol. I bet that school superintendent bought Sarah Palin’s book and listens to Rush Limbaugh.

Echo

November 14th, 2009
3:37 pm

What is sort of funny is that anyone actually thinks that teachers are treated fairly. Teachers, especially in Georgia, have been dumped on for years. The only thing unusual about this case is that she is suing. Had teachers been suing and putting the districts on notice in the past, this sort of thing may not have ever happened. I hope she wins. I also hope this is the first of many lawsuits on behalf of teachers in this state because this state really needs an enema!

Mad at Warrior and Mom

November 14th, 2009
3:48 pm

Sorry, But Warrior and Mom, What race has to do with this? Your comment was WHACK!!!!!!!!!!!

jackie

November 14th, 2009
3:49 pm

Maureen: do you have enough info and money from ajc to search out the source of this e-mail? I know whenever i receive a new e-mail. i simply add them to my contact list and I automatically have their e-mail address.

Erin

November 14th, 2009
3:58 pm

I really feel for Ashley Payne … this whole situation is just ludicrous.

Whoever wrote that email (and I’m with everyone else … it HAD to be a fellow teacher with an ax to grind, unless it was started by something else and came from an administrator looking for a way to get rid of someone he didn’t like, or to get rid of her and place someone else there in a big, bad case of nepotism) clearly has it in for her. If she’s been as careful as she said she is with her Facebook page, then there’s no way a student could have seen it, much less supposedly “quoted” from it to her mom.

This whole thing just gets curioser and curiouser.

downsouth

November 14th, 2009
4:21 pm

they may not be able to easily find the origin of the email if it ws sent via an anonymizer program, but then again, it could probably be traced if there was sufficient cause. this woman is getting hung out to dry be some bs. hopefully the courts can resolve this and get her fair compensation for this bs.

even with high security setting utilized, there are ways for people to view “private” pages w/o the user knowing about it. i have a friend who signed up for facebook as normal, yet can mysteriously view anybody she wants private pages. the system of security is not foolproof, but regardless, she’s not doing anything illegal, and someone is trying to get her in trouble. it’s too bad the school admin didn’t ask a few more questions before jumping to its conclusion.

we will hear plenty about this case. once again, georgia makes the national news…

babs

November 14th, 2009
4:29 pm

what a ridiculous principal and school system- I hope she sues the school and gets enough money so she never has to work again

Gr8Teacher

November 14th, 2009
4:30 pm

The entire situation is just as ridiculous as WarriorMom comments. What are you talking about? Did you read the article? I think you are commenting on the wrong blog. I am a teacher and find it very disturbing that we can not enjoy our personal time. We spend more time with students than their own parents and we can’t have an alcoholic beverage when we want? Pitiful because last time I checked alcohol isn’t illegal and neither is it for teachers to drink it when they are off the job so where’s your case Barrow County? I hope Barrow County public schools becomes A. Payne’s Public Schools!

jackie

November 14th, 2009
4:34 pm

The bikini shots of Miss California are much more revealing than this teacher. they are all over the internet.

NY State of Mind

November 14th, 2009
4:35 pm

1st @ Warrior and Mom….. Shame on you…. This way of thinking is one of the main reasons our world is so screwed up….
2) This has to be an old boyfriend or a lonely co-worker (Carl the Janitor) who did not get have the pleasure of going to europe and lives a drama filled lonely life in the tiny hamlet of Borrow County….
3) Doesn’t Kim Basinger or her family owns Braselton which is in Borrow?

NY State of Mind

November 14th, 2009
4:43 pm

Help me with this: Say I am a teacher and I am out with my family having dinner at Outback on Sunday and happen to be drinking a Fosters and one of my students just so happen to be dining with his/her parents after church. Does that student’s parent have the right to call my principal and say I was a bad role model cause I was drinking a beer on Sunday in plain view of one of my students. Could I be fired for this even though I am on my own time?

clyde

November 14th, 2009
4:48 pm

As I mentioned yesterday,nothing different happened here than what has happened in thousands of other workplaces.There is power,prestige, and money involved in positions and someone else wanted it and Ms.Payne was in that someone’s way.This person saw their chance and took it.

It is not unusual for a boss to reward people like this either.Some bosses run their ship exactly this way.I will say this also;either the boss faked the letter or you can bet he knows who wrote it.

Ms. Downey needs to find out who replaced this teacher.It may be innocent or there may be a lot of intrique involved.How about it Maureen?Care to take the plunge?

Recruit1

November 14th, 2009
4:58 pm

The world’s worst attorney would win this one….she stands to win as much as she wants on this one – and deserves it..school administrators are the least prepared and knowledgeable of human resources employment law.

Classie

November 14th, 2009
5:00 pm

Teachers have a life outside of school. Seems like they are held to the same standards as priests. Teachers should be allowed to drink and use expletives. If a parent and a child saw her drinking at a local restaurant and saying “bitch” would the teacher had been fired? No. Kids see worse than that in their own homes and on tv.

John

November 14th, 2009
5:06 pm

Act smart, act appropriately, and you won’t have a problem. This teacher chose to behave otherwise and to advertise it to the world.

Dawg Fan 74

November 14th, 2009
5:53 pm

She quit. She was not fired. End of story.

ms obvious

November 14th, 2009
6:01 pm

and this my friends is why we can’t keep decent teachers in Georgia schools. I have tons of friends who are currently teachers who have posted things, and written status messages that are worse. Teachers have values to uphold, but they are people too. She did nothing wrong and does not deserve to lose her job over it. It wouldn’t bother me in the least if she was my daughters kindergarten teacher. I do believe that she was coerced into resigning as this is actually a pretty popular way for school systems to get rid of teachers they do not like. I hope she wins her lawsuit! Good luck!

Maureen Downey

November 14th, 2009
6:05 pm

At this point, Payne says she is suing for her job, her back pay through August and attorney fees.
Maureen

frazman

November 14th, 2009
6:19 pm

Standard Teachers Union fare, defend the undefendable, defend the slugs dragging down kids, defend the political left rats teaching obamza songs, while turning their backs on schools prayer, intellegent teachers, and most of all, the children in school.

frazman

November 14th, 2009
6:20 pm

…dawg fan, when you didn’t finish grade school, don’t you feel a little silly being the ’super fan’ of a colleage team?

frazman

November 14th, 2009
6:24 pm

What, rattler, and hood rat momma, why don’t you jump in when the tide is going the other way? Don’t it pay?

Crazy Boss

November 14th, 2009
6:32 pm

So let me get this straight. Even from the school’s perspective: We have a teacher who is producing more educated students with measurable results and she gets forced in to a suspension or resigning because of some private content on Facebook?! This is where the statement “those who can do, those who can’t teach” comes from. I love and respect teachers who teach for the love of educating. But those who would otherwise consider a teaching career are scared off by ridiculous bureaucratic situations like this one. So I ask this: Can we please focus on results and production! Even if the lady does exist and her daughter exists I’d like to tell her to take some freaking personal responsibility for the moral and responsible rearing of her child. It is not the world’s responsibility to conform to your standards of social mores it is your responsibility to have integrity and respect your fellow man. Set a good example for your daughter and quit ruining good peoples lives because you want to play god while at the same time abdicating your own responsibilities. You cannot protect your daughter from beer and bitches. But you can teach her how to responsibly and graciously. Now get off your self righteous ass and go have the sex talk.

South Cobb Diva

November 14th, 2009
6:37 pm

My question is… why so late with the lawsuit? This all happened in late August, and it’s now mid-November. Nevertheless, I feel this situation warrants serious consideration by the court system. It sounds like the school system went way overboard with this teacher by confronting her about some innocuous photos and text taken out of context. Why not a reprimand? Why not give her due process within the school’s grievance guidelines? As Maureen and everyone has said, a lot of things are not adding up. Someone obviously had it out for this teacher. I hope she gets what she deserves.

OhMyLanta!

November 14th, 2009
7:04 pm

OMG! this article just scares the living heck outta me! i’m tempted to delete my FB page right now! i’m a teacher & i was at a Halloween party a few weeks ago dressed as a preggo pink curler wearing smoking & drinking white trash Jerry Springer guest and i told EVERYone no pics and no FB posting of any pics! btw, it was a REAL funny costume! wonder if i could be fired now? sheesh! kidding i’m not a teacher i’m a plumber. really.

DB

November 14th, 2009
9:29 pm

I hope Ms. Payne sues the hell out of those idiots in Barrow County. Any reasonably competent high school computer geek could trace back the IP address — heck, *I* could do it. If the administrators in Barrow County are too stupid to figure it out, they are too stupid to be running a school system.

I hope she takes ‘em to court, and I hope she wins BIG.