Facebook case two years later: Barrow teacher still waiting for decision

One of the Facebook photos that a "parent" complained about in an anonymous e-mail

One of the Facebook photos that a "parent" complained about in an anonymous e-mail

Not a week goes by when I don’t get an e-mail from somewhere around the world asking about the fate of Ashley Payne, the Barrow County teacher who lost her job two years ago after an anonymous e-mailer sent Facebook photos of her sipping wine and drinking beer in Europe.

While the case was in court last week, it remains unresolved. A decision is expected shortly but Payne’s attorney is not optimistic that she will regain her high school teaching position.

“Not yet. I don’t think it is happening,” said attorney Richard Storrs in a telephone interview today. “There is a new superintendent, and I was really hoping that this new superintendent would see things in such a way that we could move forward. But they are dug in more than ever.”

Now in graduate school at the University of Georgia, Payne said in an e-mail today,  “I don’t think winning my job back has been a possibility since my contract ran out in the summer of 2010. The best I can hope for is some kind of monetary compensation and for everything to be resolved so that potential employers will know that there is no more to the story and no skeletons waiting to come out of my closet. I wonder if the ‘pending’ status of my case has made employers hesitant to hire me.”

The Facebook photos were standard travel shots in beer gardens and cafes and would have passed muster with most Sunday school teachers. Payne was simply sitting at a table with pals. Of 700 vacation photos, 10 had alcohol in them.

On her Facebook page, which was set to the highest privacy levels and was limited to Payne’s adult friends, she also posted that she was headed out to play Crazy Bitch Bingo, a popular game played weekly at Joe’s On Juniper in Atlanta.

According to an anonymous e-mail sent to the Barrow school chief, a student saw Payne’s Facebook page, an allegation that rang false from the start. In court documents, Barrow County admitted later that it never discovered the source of the e-mail or whether any student ever saw Payne’s Facebook page. (If you read my earlier blogs, you will see there is good reason to believe a colleague of Payne’s sent the e-mail, which came from a fake address.)

That is an important factor in this case as Barrow initially told me that Payne’s main offense was sharing her Facebook page with a student. Yet, the system never confirmed that a student ever saw the page.

At the time, I talked to the head of the state Professional Standards Commission, the state’s governing body over teacher conduct. He told me his office would not have responded to an anonymous e-mail, even though Payne’s boss told her that it was likely the PSC would strip her of her teaching license if the complaint came before it. The principal then suggested to Payne that resignation was a safer option for her, according to the written statement provided to me by Barrow County schools.

In an overreaction that drew condemnation around the world, Barrow forced the young teacher and UGA grad to resign. (If you are unfamiliar with this case, please read this blog.) The story sparked international debate over whether teachers should have Facebook pages, and where their privacy and school conduct codes collide

Barrow has moved for summary judgment, which is a ruling by a court without a full trial. Arguments were heard last week in Superior Court.

“The judge basically expressed that he thought some of their arguments were persuasive, basically that Barrow delayed long enough now that mandamus is not the right remedy. So, I told Ashley after the hearing that we would amend the complaint and go from there,” said Storrs. (See news story below for explanation of mandamus in this case.)

Payne continues to pursue her master’s degree to make her more marketable as a teacher, says Storrs. “It  just doesn’t make any sense what happened to her. And she is such a delightful person. At every juncture, I thought we could get this resolved.”

Payne and I exchanged e-mails a while back about the case in general.  I asked her if I could post her comments back then and she agreed, but I was waiting for an update to her case to share them:

So, here they are:

“I want more than anything for this case to be resolved– in my favor, but I am doing my best to move on with my life in the meantime.  Teaching is still what I want to do despite the bureaucratic hypocrisy with which I have had to deal. I don’t want to let myself fall by the wayside like many passionate young teachers who are quickly jaded by the American educational system and switch to more appreciated careers that pay higher salaries.

“The system needs more young (and old!), passionate, idealistic thinkers — in spite of the fact that some of us use newfangled social networking sites and have a glass of wine or two during summer vacation. That’s why I’m seeking some semblance of justice in this case and continuing to work on my M.Ed. in Educational Psychology at the University of Georgia. I love kids, and I am learning even more about how they think and learn so that hopefully — hopefully soon — I can get back in the classroom and get back to doing what I love.”

Here is a news story about the hearing from the Gainsville Times:

Former Barrow County teacher Ashley Payne is waiting on a decision from a Superior Court judge about her former job.

It’s been nearly two years since the former Apalachee High School teacher claims she was forced to resign from her job due to the content of her Facebook page — a photo of her with an alcoholic drink and a posted curse word.

Payne filed a lawsuit against the district in October 2009, asking for a hearing from the Board of Education to determine whether she should keep her job and keep seeking payment from Aug. 27, 2009, until the day of the hearing.

Payne, her attorney Richard Storrs of Mills Paskert Divers and the counsel for the school district, Daniel Murphy of McLocklin & Murphy LLP, appeared before Chief Judge David Motes last week. Motes reviewed the Barrow County School District’s request for a summary judgment, which would allow Motes to dismiss the case without it going to trial.

The controversy surrounding Payne began Aug. 27, 2009, when an anonymous email sent to then-Superintendent Ron Saunders complained about the content on Payne’s page.Saunders forwarded the email to Apalachee Principal David McGee.

According to Payne, McGee called her into his office before classes began and convinced her to resign, saying she would be suspended otherwise.The district has always maintained that Payne resigned voluntarily.The case has gotten national attention and called into question how school faculty should handle themselves in the world of social media.

According to the attorney for Barrow County Schools, Payne’s complaint against the system should be dismissed for four reasons: Payne’s complaint, called a writ of mandamus, was filed against the Board of Education when it should have been filed against Saunders; a mandamus cannot be used to compel discretionary actions; a mandamus cannot undo an act that has already been done; and since Payne’s contract is expired, her request to initiate Fair Dismissal Proceedings is void.

Before the trial, Storrs said he filed an amendment adding the superintendent to the complaint.

On the other three counts, however, Motes appeared to favor the school district’s claims.

“The judge did not rule … but he said the school district has presented a pretty persuasive argument that this mandamus may not be right,” Storrs said. However, he still believes his client has a strong case.

“Our argument is that she was entitled to her hearing and is still entitled to that, she was entitled to her pay, so we believe the mandamus is still appropriate,” he said.

Storrs is also planning the next move for his client. “My basic plan is to file an amended complaint which will still be valid claims,” he said. “I think she has a valid claim for breach of contract for salary, and also think she has a claim for civil rights violations for not getting her hearing.”

Murphy was more hesitant to comment on the case. “The judge didn’t rule, so it’s really premature (to speculate),” he said. “We don’t know if there’s going to be another hearing. If there’s going to be another hearing, we know the issues but we don’t know when or where that will take place. … I don’t want the judge to think we’re trying this in the press. We are completely at the discretion of the court.”

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

257 comments Add your comment

Ernest

August 17th, 2011
11:39 am

It is really sad that taxpayer dollars from Barrow County citizens are being used in this case. It seems pretty obovious the school system made a mistake and that the best thing to do would be to cut their losses and reinstate her with back pay. If they could also sign a non disclosure agreement that includes payments for all parties abiding by this, it could go away for everyone.

pinkbunny

August 17th, 2011
11:43 am

Meanwhile, just down the road, Beverly Hall, who DID do wrong, waddles freely off into the sunset with her ill-gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars and her wrongfully-obtained awards.

What is WRONG with this picture?????

Sad Day

August 17th, 2011
11:46 am

My prayers go up for Ashley. There is this misconception that teachers are public servants with no rights to a life outside of their career, and it is ludicrous. She was not stripteasing or prostituting, just enjoying private time. Many of those who are persecuting her are enjoying their private lives, so why are they condemning her? Does the Superior Court ever rule in favor of teachers? I doubt it. As a matter of fact most courts /hearing officers rule in favor of the businesses in Georgia. It is common practice. Ask the reporters to investigate.

This is bs

August 17th, 2011
11:49 am

pinkbunny,

Your comments are dead on! Wonder what would have happened if this was an African American teacher. We would have had Jesse Jackson marching down the streets in protest!

Once Again

August 17th, 2011
11:50 am

If parents cared as much about the horrible education their kids are getting when school IS in session as they seem to care about what a teacher is doing when school ISN”T in session you would see a real turnaround. Sadly not. And as always, the taxpayer is getting the short end of this stick.

V for Vendetta

August 17th, 2011
11:54 am

If I were a taxpaying citizen of Barrow county, I would be FURIOUS that precious recession dollars are being wasted on a case built upon someone’s damaged ego and libel against an enthusiastic young teacher. At every possible juncture, this young woman has demonstrated herself to be a caring, competent, and passionate teacher. Meanwhile, the rubes in Barrow county have demonstrated that they are nothing more than narrow-minded bumpkins and good ‘ole boy trash.

Wow. Just wow.

Billy

August 17th, 2011
11:58 am

Since we can rule out the merits of the case against this teacher, because there aren’t any, it either has to be race, gender, her beauty, or personality that someone else is jealous about, and therefore, she deserves the shalf. There are small, small people in this world. I’d love to find out who did this. If a student, he was put up to it. More likely, a fellow employee, maybe even one that turned her down for a date. If you don’t get reinstated lady, sue the school system, and all individuals that had a part in it. I hated both junior and senior high school, because most teachers and admin were just like the people that falsely accuse this teacher. They should quit and get a job in a warehouse…

Write Your Board Members

August 17th, 2011
12:00 pm

Are the Barrow County parents this oblivious or just plain dumb? How can they let their Board of Ed spend money on stuff like this?

Former School Board Member

August 17th, 2011
12:03 pm

Clearly a mistake. My only question would be: “Is she a good teacher and did her actions pictured on Facebook affect her ability to continue as an educator?”

St. John

August 17th, 2011
12:04 pm

@ This is bs

Who gives a crap about her race. Wrong is wrong. She should be reinstated immediately. Case closed. Quit injecting race and politics into everything.

Janet

August 17th, 2011
12:09 pm

I don’t know this teacher nor do I live in Barrow County… but it is OBVIOUS that there was no wrongdoing here . That picture is fine. This is clearly a vendetta of some sort. Sad. I would be angry if my tax dollars were being spent on this.

DJ Sniper

August 17th, 2011
12:10 pm

As the child of a now retired teacher, I can tell you that I totally side with Ashley Payne. These days, school principals and superindendents are so dang scared of facing lawsuits that they completely hang their teachers out to dry. It’s obvious that this lady did nothing wrong, yet she’s being punished for it. And people wonder why more and more people are choosing not to teach.

SamE

August 17th, 2011
12:11 pm

After reading this update on Ashley Payne I am STILL AMAZED that this is even a story to begin with. Teachers, Lawyers, Doctors, whatever, should be allowed to participate in social networking fun or business at their own leisure. It is absolutely “brain-less” to expect or even assume that people in public service positions aren’t going to have “naughty” or “adult” moments when not at work. Grow up people or better yet grow up “good ole boys” you people are the worst anyway.

Steve

August 17th, 2011
12:11 pm

This is total BS by the school board and a complete waste of taxpayers money. Barrow county residents should be at the school boards front door demanding that they reinstate this young lady and move on. Another reason why this country has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Mr. Ed

August 17th, 2011
12:12 pm

And they wonder why GA is always at the bottom of the educational list. Mnagement is pathetic why would anyone want to teach in the system that is so broken in GA?And the nation!

mgdawg

August 17th, 2011
12:14 pm

This just amazes me, and when I heard about it a couple of months ago I thought it was a joke. What she is doing in the pictures is perfectly legal and I would bet that there are members in the administration in barrow county that do the same thing. I think the school system should settle with her, give her the pay she has lost along with some money for the stress this has put her through. I do believe that after all of this, she probably needs to move on to another school system. She shouldn’t have to, but I think that would be best for her and the school system.

Logical Dad

August 17th, 2011
12:15 pm

Ridiculous use of tax payer funds. Can we assume this school board is populated by Teabaggers who demand less waste in government spending? Bartow is a red county, after all (in more ways than one).

[By the way, whether or not the board members are Teabaggers is about as relevant as the race of the teacher involved. That's the joke.]

Ron

August 17th, 2011
12:17 pm

For the person who mentioned if it was an Afro Amercian teacher that Jessie Jackson would be marching, you are right because Afro American problems are only heard if strong action if taken. White Americans have the power of the press and money to back them. As we see in this report.

Kevin Lyda

August 17th, 2011
12:18 pm

Well written and well researched article. I’m impressed by the quality of these articles.

Unfortunately the story itself is truly depressing. Clearly Payne is a dedicated and professional teacher. It’s not just her being treated poorly that is unfair, it’s the students being deprived of her talents that are being poorly served. Meanwhile the unnamed teacher who seems to have started this jihad against Payne is still influencing students. Is it wise to expose children to role models of such cowardice and dubious ethics?

Dr NO

August 17th, 2011
12:27 pm

I hope someone will do something positive with this renegade teacher. The obvious out of control behavior is a cry for help and I Dr NO am at her disposal with a full range of alternate fun filled programs, night or day, that will assist in her full recovery because I Care.

Phil Osopher

August 17th, 2011
12:28 pm

What a bunch of stupid people, the kind that make up juries. She voluntarily resigned. if she was too ignorant to know her “rights,” then she’s too stupid to teach. For those brilliant legal experts who think Barrow is”wasting” taxpayer dollars defending the lawsuit, learn to read: the judge favors a summary judgment on the county’s motion. This means she is about to lose. She (and you) need to get over it and Move On. You and she need to have a big ol’ alky party and post a bunch of nekkid pictures on Facebook.

Light

August 17th, 2011
12:28 pm

Really?! There has to be more to the story. I can’t believe they asked her to resign because of this. So, what about teachers who don’t post on social networking sites but do all types of horrible things that their co-workers know about but don’t squeal on them, like at the club every Friday evening? If what I read is true and that she was on vacation and she had the highest privacy settings on, then this is unfortunately pitiful for our school systems and their decision makers, and there must be something political or personal for it to have taken this turn. I agree with the post above that APS is national news for a scandalous matter affecting our children and the head is not being held accountable, but we have this scenario and no resolution. I wonder about this world in which we live…

Not So Casual Observer

August 17th, 2011
12:31 pm

AND, government’s solution to all of THEIR problems is more of our tax dollars. Yet bureaucrats waste assets on the firing and an egomaniacal fight to keep a dedicated teacher away from the classroom.

lisa

August 17th, 2011
12:33 pm

Just goes to show you that Americans are not free. She may be a teacher but she still has a life.

Jim S.

August 17th, 2011
12:36 pm

I respect the fact that Ms. Payne continues to seek a fair resolution to this matter. The case unfortunately highlights the undue influence that fanatics have at the local level, particularly on local boards of education. This influence is gained under the guise of the protection of children; in this instance it begs the question as to what the children are being ‘protected’ from. Truly silly, yet frightening. A fair resolution might include that Principal never working in educational ‘leadership’ again. I would also be curious as to any influence board members or the Superintent had on this ridiculous episode.

George

August 17th, 2011
12:38 pm

What an unfortunate situation (for the teacher). But the little know fact is that Boards of Education in this state have great discretionary power over teachers (especially those without tenure) to remove them on the basis of something often called the “any evidence rule.” Boards may also rely on what,in their opinion, is conduct unbecoming of a teacher.
Sadly, most boards, superintendents, and principals take an opposite stand and more often let poor teachers get by for fear that they will be sued. Go figure.

Observer

August 17th, 2011
12:41 pm

I agree with those who say this is ridiculous and that Ashley Payne should not have been asked to resign. What is amazing to me is that the judge, David Motes, would not, or could not use some common sense and pass judgement accordingly.

It would seem to me that there is some fear here on the part of the authorities in settling this travesty, as naming the accuser may be very embarrassing to a lot of “important” people. Unless I am mistaken the law gives the “accused” the right to face their “accuser”.

Barrow County gets a black eye on this, as does Apalachee High School, as being places that may not be the best choices in which to live, raise and educate our children in the 21st. century. Sadly, Facebook also gets a black eye in spite of the fact that it was obviously a trusted “facebook friend ” that abused the trust of Ashley Payne.

HS Public Teacher

August 17th, 2011
12:48 pm

All teachers across the State should get a facebook page and post these types of pictures. It is just ridiculous to think that this should impact our job.

main d

August 17th, 2011
12:50 pm

difference between beverly hall and ashley payne: beverly black, entitled and connected. Ashley’s not. Beverly keeps hundreds of thousands in severance and pensions and they are trying to strip Ashley’s license. Yes—a wonderful country—Amerika!

Chode McBlob

August 17th, 2011
12:50 pm

Her firing is totally UNjustified. She should be reinstated with back pay. She did nothing wrong or illegal.

fleck

August 17th, 2011
12:52 pm

In my high school circa 1985 my social studies teacher had poster of the Saint Pauli’s beer girl hanging up in his room. Georgia your laws are backwards and only let the criminals walk not the innocent.

Kay

August 17th, 2011
12:52 pm

I agree with you V for Vendetta!!!!!

Wrong

August 17th, 2011
12:53 pm

Why is gods green earth would a teacher be fired for drinking, not only drinking but in a different country and one vacation? WTF is wrong with our government? Revolt people…it is time!!!

fleck

August 17th, 2011
12:53 pm

They not done with BEV yet.. Give it some time.

Hunting Dawg

August 17th, 2011
12:56 pm

Just a waste of talent, I could understand if she was doing a keg stand in the picture but sipping on a glass of wine and using the B-Word in a facebook post is even worse! Can someone please tell me the definition of that word because I am pretty sure its in the dictionaries that are in every school system in the state. Its not like she was saying it to someone. What is going on with this world?

Ghostrider

August 17th, 2011
12:59 pm

This is got to be without a doubt the biggest waste of taxpayers money. The lady is on Vacation, out of the Country and she is ask to resign because she had a glass of wine and a beer…You have got to be kidding me. I would tell them to kiss my big fat white A$$ before I would have resigned. What a bunch of FN Dictators…

Good Mother

August 17th, 2011
1:01 pm

The items this teacher has in her hands are items I use in church every Sunday. As Catholics we drink wine in church during Mass. We also have a beer in the lounge with the priests at the Knights of Columbus. The alcohol doesn’t bother me.

The “bitch” word does. This word is just as offensive to me as a woman as the N word is to a black American.

She’s naive to believe that things one posts on Face book, even with “security” isn’t going to be revealed in public or held up to scrutiny by the public or parents.

What I (had I been the school board) would have recommended is for her to apologize publicly for using the word “bitch” and reinstated her teaching license.

Her offense certainly doesn’t bother me as much as the lying and cheating and stealing the 200 APS teachers performed — and we are paying for them to sit on their hands while we investigate them. That is a crime as well.

Marie

August 17th, 2011
1:02 pm

Barrow County Board of Education – REALLY? Unbelievable, that you had to stoop to find something to spend your TAXPAYERS $$$$$$’s on. She did nothing wrong, but you sure have, maybe you should all resign due to improper allocation of TAXPAYER $$$$$$’s, far larger crime than Ms Payne having an alcoholic beverage on her summer vacation.

that's nothing

August 17th, 2011
1:04 pm

Um that pic is harmless compared to what I found on one of my children’s teachers FB page a couple of years ago. Did I complain NO! Why? Because the teacher is an adult with a life outside of school. Get over it it’s not like the teacher was in the classroom with a drink no matter how bad she may have wanted to be.

Dirty South TV

August 17th, 2011
1:06 pm

If anyone ever finds the real source of that life-changing email, please send that name to us.
I will personally handle that individual.

GMC
President and CEO
Dirty South TV

LP

August 17th, 2011
1:08 pm

That is why you have to be careful who you choose as friends. I don’t understand how this could have happened if she had such high privacy restrictions on. Its my guess that it was someone that she knew who she “friended” on Facebook that leaked that photo.

Do I think that this is wrong? Of course and she should have her job reinstated immediately. I looked at the pictures and there is nothing wrong with them just someone having fun. People really need to get a life.

To Fleck from Good Mother

August 17th, 2011
1:11 pm

Fleck, you said ”

“In my high school circa 1985 my social studies teacher had poster of the Saint Pauli’s beer girl hanging up in his room. Georgia your laws are backwards and only let the criminals walk not the innocent.”

That’s offensive. Your teacher is blatantly treating women as sex objects and condoning it in school. We don’t allow it in the work place. We shouldn’t allow it in the school either. For that stupid, offensive display, yes, he should have been given the heave ho.

jawja

August 17th, 2011
1:11 pm

Is it just me, or, does her attorney keep dropping the ball? I’d go after whoever threw her under the bus.

Troy

August 17th, 2011
1:12 pm

The board needs to go to a local HS game to see that the curse word and drinking are hardly shocking to students. This smacks of a personal vendetta aided and abetted by the school board.

Non-Reneck Non-Barrow County Non-Bureaucrat

August 17th, 2011
1:13 pm

I hope this girl wins the case and sues Barrow County for everything they’re worth. These people are pieces of garbage.

Not surprised

August 17th, 2011
1:16 pm

A lifelong resident of Ga and I’m not surprised at all with some of the 19th century thinking of people in leadership. Technology is moving so rapidly, in ten years or less, FB technology will be like using white chalk on a black board. I wonder how the powers to be in Barrow Cty feel about online education? Probably never heard of it.

Black and White Smiley Faces ☺☻

August 17th, 2011
1:21 pm

The “bitch” word does. This word is just as offensive to me as a woman as the N word is to a black American.

She owes no one an apology, and in fact the reverse is true.

You are an oversensitive & crass do-gooder who should focus you time and energy on things that matter, as those of us in the real world frequently do.

Thanks for contributing nothing except displaying one more example of why teaching is a terrible profession and that teachers are subject to the whims of anonymous cowards and p1ss-poor administrators.

Black and White Smiley Faces ☺☻

August 17th, 2011
1:22 pm

She owes no one an apology, and in fact the reverse is true.

Some people here are oversensitive & crass do-gooders who should focus your time and energy on things that matter, as those of us in the real world frequently do.

Thanks for contributing nothing except displaying one more example of why teaching is a terrible profession and that teachers are subject to the whims of anonymous cowards and p1ss-poor administrators.

Henry McKee

August 17th, 2011
1:22 pm

As a former school administrator I am disgusted at the actions of “educators”. This teacher was denied “due process” and in a just society should receive full job restoration and a settlement for attacks on her character. The officials who created this debacle and waste of funds should be fired. But they will continue to defy “The Peter Principle” and move up the ladder exposing more of their ass as a future target. .

I Love Life Cereal

August 17th, 2011
1:24 pm

These people are pieces of garbage.

+1

And what’s really bad is that typically the average person would never support this situation, but unfortunately she’s been railroaded by a few select people.

There are few things in this world that anger me to the degree of seeing an average, good person being crushed by an anonymous coward (if that even was the truth).

Someone should be horse-whipped for this!