Manatee County is not alone in suspending a teacher due to social media use- Teacher in Pennsylvania suspended for expressing her frustrations on her blog

February 17, 2011 at 1:50 am | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Legal, New employment laws/amendments, Social Media/Social Networking | 1 Comment

A high school English teacher in suburban Philadelphia complained about the trials and tribulations of teaching today’s students, along with making comments about her life in general.  Teacher Natalie Munroe complained on her personal blog that “My students are out of control.  They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.” Munroe made snarky comments that many Human Resources people would love to make – but know better to avoid:  “I hear the trash company is hiring”; “I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son”; “Just as bad as his sibling. Don’t you know how to raise kids?”; “I hate your kid.”

Importantly, Munroe did NOT use her full name, instead she referred to herself as Natalie M.  Munroe did not identify herself as a teacher, did not identify her school, nor did she specifically name any students in the blog so she took steps to not only protect her privacy but the privacy of those she commented upon – rather like actually using the privacy settings on one’s Facebook page.  Somehow, Munroe’s students discovered the blog and brought it to the attention of administration.

The debate is now raging as to whether Munroe’s comments should be the subject of discipline as the comments were made on a personal blog, were not publicized at the school, but were put in the public forum as Munroe’s blog was not subscription only and was accessible to anyone surfing the net.

Munroe has commented that she believes the debate as to the topics she covered – the need for high school students to take personal responsibility for not only their education but for their actions in her class – is one worth having.  She states she has no regrets about her blog posts.

Munroe is currently suspended while her school district determines how to address the issue.  School Districts all over the country will be facing this issue over and over again.  Proactive policies balancing the privacy – and constitutional rights – of teachers to express personal feelings must be viewed against the school district’s need to protect students’ privacy and confidentiality.  Students up to a certain age have no choice but to be in school; they have no choice but to subject themselves to the scrutiny of those who teach them.  With that being said, as a public sector employee, Munroe and other teachers have a First Amendment right that is not shared by those in the private sector.

Munroe has hired an attorney, who is arguing that Munroe’s comments were protected by the First Amendment.  During an appearance on ABC News, Munroe’s attorney Steven Rovner said the district has stated that Munroe’s posted comments were egregious.  Signs are pointing to Munroe losing her job over her posts.  Munroe and her counsel appear ready to litigate any termination through the courts.  Whether this will be the case that gives employers guidance as to how to navigate the complex world of monitoring the social media activities of employees remains to be seen.

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