Administration's Response to Teacher's Facebook Posting Extremely Troubling

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

Administration's Response to Teacher's Facebook Posting Extremely Troubling

What started as an innocent joke between two co-workers on Facebook has resulted in the loss of two teaching jobs and the murmurs of others asking “Is nothing we do on social networking sites safe?”

In past weeks, headlines have dominated the news feeds proclaiming that prospective employees are being forced to log in to their Facebook accounts during job interviews, that kids are being expelled for using expletives on social media accounts after school and in the privacy of their own homes, and that social media monitoring is taking on a whole new life in the schools.

Case in point: Kimberly Hester, a grade school teacher’s aide in Michigan, became the latest victim of this hyper monitoring after a parent saw an image displayed on Hester’s Facebook page that did not sit well with the individual and reported it to Frank Squires Elementary where Hester was employed, prompting the investigation. So what was kind of picture was deemed so inappropriate that it warranted an investigation?

According to reports, Hester posted a picture that her co-worker had sent her earlier in 2011 that displayed the co-worker with her pants around her ankles with the message “thinking of you.” While the image was far from pornographic in nature, as the picture only displayed the pants, part of the coworker’s legs and the tips of her shoes, a parent thought otherwise.

The parent, who was Facebook friends with Hester but did not have a child in Hester’s class, showed the picture to the school superintendent, characterizing it as unprofessional and offensive. Since Hester’s photo was only viewable for those that were friends with her, the superintendent of Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Robert Colby asked Hester to come to his office. 

"Instead of asking to take the photo down and viewing it from my friend's point of view, they called me into the office without my union," she said. Hester is a member of the Michigan Education Association, which represents more than 157,000 teachers, faculty and support staff in the state, according to its website.

Reports indicate that the superintendent then asked that Hester show him her Facebook profile page. After refusing to give her employer her Facebook password and let him search her account without her union present, Hester received a letter from the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District said, "…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly."

Hester – and her coworker who was pictured in the photo – received seven weeks of paid administrative leave and were suspended for 10 days. Her coworker, who was up for tenure, was ultimately forced to resign, according to Hester. When Hester returned to school last September, she was removed from her previous post as teaching assistant for impaired students in kindergarten through fourth grade and was instead assigned another program and placed under a harsh directive. Some of the stipulations were that she could not speak with coworkers unless it was about a student and she could not go to the bathroom before asking. As the school year progressed, she found out she wasn’t allowed to use paid days off, had to take 49 online classes and was instructed to read books about communication.

By November of 2011, she reportedly experienced a nervous breakdown that landed her in the hospital and prevented her from working in the school. A few weeks later, the school allegedly stopped giving her benefits. Hester begins her pre-trial next week in which she will contend that she should have her job back and be paid $15,000 to date, she told reporters.

"My name has been dragged through the mud. Still, to this day, I'm under a directive where I cannot speak to my coworkers. People think I'm a horrible person and I'm a criminal,” Hester said.

This latest example of extreme social monitoring sheds light on just how misguided some parents and administrators can be. Instead of focusing on catching child predators and teachers who abuse their relationships with their students, they are instead out to scapegoat a young woman who posted something after school hours to her personal Facebook account that had nothing to do with students. Sure, it might have been a bad judgment call on Hester’s part, but to keep a teacher like that under such tight surveillance demonstrates just how ill-advised school administrators acted.

Hester is not a monster. She is not a Mary Kay Letorneau or a Jerry Sandusky. She is not someone who took advantage of a student. She is simply a young teacher who showed poor judgment and has now been crucified for it.

Let this be a lesson to all administrators out there. With the number of suicides related to cyberbullying climbing exponentially fast and details coming forward about many illicit affairs between student and teachers, perhaps you should be taking your social networking police squad down a different street. 


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