Fired for Facebook

A kindergarten teacher may be fired for a Facebook comment that she was “teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”

Charlotte Superintendent Peter Gorman recommended she be fired.

The teacher’s attorney, John Gresham, said his client didn’t intend to offend her students and was telling the truth about the resegregated school, where only 3 percent of students are white and 93 percent qualify for lunch subsidies to low-income families.

Be careful what you write online.

About Joanne


  1. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: no clear standards exist for teachers and online communication.

    “Be careful what you say online”? Last I checked, you’ve got Dan Greene on your blogroll, who from what I can tell has violated FERPA regularly by discussing his students under his own name (and possibly theirs). What about Not All Flowers and Sausages, in which the teacher regularly speaks derogatorily about her administration, the parents and the students? Is it okay because she’s anonymous? But then, California Teacher Guy was anonymous and his blog is now password protected.

    We don’t have standards, and there are no laws about what teachers can and can’t do online. This creates enormous opportunities for abuse.

    I’m really pretty astonished you haven’t raised this as a larger issue, or asked other bloggers about it.

  2. When did “ghetto” become PI? Isn’t everything ghetto cool and hip, particularly going to prison and shooting some little kid in the yard down the street to get back at Da Man?

  3. Why not be honest about it? Public school administrators are self-righteous morons.

  4. “…attorney, John Gresham”

    A possible story line for another best seller?

  5. How does writing about your students under your name violate FERPA, assuming that you didn’t identify which students, Cal?

  6. He does identify the students in some cases. He certainly talks about performance in such a way that anyone familiar with his class would know who he was talking about.



    I’m pretty sure he’s crossing the line in terms of discussing student performance.

    Mind you, I’m perfectly fine if he’s NOT crossing the line and I could see a ruling about it, so I could go back to my ed school and tell them that their threats about my considerably less invasive blog were full of it.

    But my reading of FERPA says that a knowledgeable person about the school can identify the student and thus he is giving away student performance to some people–including other students.

  7. I am a public school administrator and I am actually pretty candid on my blog. The difference is I don’t blame kids or teachers or other educators for the challenges we face. In fact, in my most recent post, I have listed 10 things the new Secretary of Education could do if he or she really wanted to improve our schools and eliminate the achievement gap. That gap is due more to public policy than pedagogy. If the truth hurts so be it: El Milagro Weblog”

  8. What the teacher wrote was quite stupid and unwise. I can easily see a school administration asking her to change it, just because some people would find it insulting. However, to fire someone for it is just plain goofy. You can apparently be as incompetent as you’d like — as long as you don’t use some honest slang to describe the neighborhood where you work.

  9. Robert Wright says:

    I wrote something in a neighborhood forum that may have suggested that in some respects poor students were less desirable to have in class than affluent ones.

    Two women read the post and were outraged over my insensitivity. They phoned my superiors and demanded I be fired.

    Right wingers have called me bad names, but left wingers wanted me fired.

    I like agitating the right wing, but messing with the left wing can be downright dangerous.

  10. Margo/Mom says:


    The FERPA issue has to do with identifying information. This is the same reason that test scores aren’t made public for groups smaller than a certain number (usually about 10). People can paste the bits of information together and figure out who the identified teacher is talking about. It’s a pretty risky business and I have wondered even about some who write anonymously. Three Standard Deviations to the Left is the blog of a teacher who identifies himself as IB. While he only admits to being a teacher somewhere in Minnesota (perhaps), he frequently includes a high level of detail, is insulting to students, administration, other teachers, parents, and particularly students with disabilities.

    No names are provided, but he has used pictures of various school artifacts (student work, signs posted, memos, etc). At least one poster claims to be a former student. I am guessing that it is only a matter of time until he is identified and the manuky hits the fan. He would be in far less trouble if he hadn’t been so specific and so negative.

    I’m personally not big on firing folks–many are salvageable and in the end it’s more cost effective to salvage than start anew in all but the most egregious cases. I would suggest, though, that he is among the most egregious. I haven’t read as much of Flowers and Sausages–but I suspect that she may be more youthful and flexible. She may respond to some training.

    To my mind, the issue of what is on the internet is somewhat less substantive than what it is that teachers are thinking and saying generally about their students, administrators and parents. Ugly is ugly. The window of the internet just lets others in on the secret.

  11. I could swear I actually responded to this and included links as examples. Did Joanne delete it, or did I just think I responded in a turkey haze?

    Anyway, I don’t think Dan Green is ugly or negative at all, but the point still stands. He uses his real name, his real school name, and discusses student performance in very specific terms. And then, apply what Margo said in her first paragraph.

    I was reprimanded for even having a blog that discussed my students (this is as a student myself). I was doing nothing even remotely close to Dan’s probable violations–no school names, no real names, no specific discussion of student performance. But I had to password protect my blog and it was considered a performance issue. I’m pretty annoyed about that, but I have enough fights with my school not to go looking for one.

    So there simply aren’t any standards for teacher blogging. I think this is problematic, and there should be standards. My preference would be positive stories are fine, no performance mentions (good or bad) and no real names or pictures. But right now, that wouldn’t be enough to protect a teacher if a school decided to make an issue of it.

  12. Margo/Mom says:


    I am not a lawyer, but I would think that protections for teachers would fall under freedom of speech. Freedom of speech, of course, is not limitless and there are limitations, particularly when one is speaking as a teacher (or could be construed as such) as opposed to speaking as a citizen.

    To advocate for separate standards for blogging, I would have to understand how this is fundamentally different from writing letters to the editor of the newspaper, posting flyers on trees, hosting a TV or radio show, writing novels or publishing research. Again, I am not a lawyer, but I am guessing that any such standards would be held up to the existing case law regarding any of the existing means of communication.

  13. I am not advocating separate standards for bloggers, to be clear.I am saying that schools clearly consider blogging a separate entity, and one they have the right to control. The lack of standards and the complete lack of discussion makes this much easier for them to achieve.

    I think blogging should be treated as a publication, and whatever rules teachers have to follow in order to write an article or a letter to the editor or even a book should apply.

  14. Cal:

    The same rules do apply, unless I am legally mistaken (any lawywers out there want to comment?). This does not mean that there aren’t policies/practices out there in violation of constitutional rights–just as there are policies/practices that violate all kind of rights unless/until challenged in court. That’s pretty much how the system works–and has for centuries, in the development of common law. Granted, this is a new area in which there is a dearth of case law–but the same principles would apply. If teachers believe that their rights are violated (or if students and their families believe that their rights are violated)–there are venues to which they can apply for relief.

  15. Miller T. Smith says:

    The teachers cannot be fired unless the activity was in and of itself illegal. Saying bad things about your school is legal. You cannot be fired for it unless you are making things up.

    Having pictures of yourself having a good time at a party is not illegal. You cannot be fired for that reason. This is settled case law and the system is violating the law even entertaining these complaints.

    These are stupid administrators. Want to get their attention? Sue them for even threatening you with punishment ofr firing and put a lien on their home and have that in the paperwork when they get served. You will see a sudden respect for your rights being voiced.

  16. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I think all the drinking photos, etc. fall under the moral turpitude clause in many (most?) contracts.

  17. Miller T. Smith says:

    Drinking is not moral turpitude under the law and those items in your contract are not enforcable any longer.

    I can post a picture of me smoking a cig and drinking from a bottle of scotch and the public school system can do nothing and or should it be. I cna roll around in the mud and jump out of my second floor into a vat of pudding and the school system can do nothing.

    I would dig dirt on these admin jerks. I would have them divorced by the end of the week.

  18. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Well, certainly there are districts out there attempting to enforce them. I don’t agree with them. I think I’m just as much a citizen of this country as Joanne Jacobs, and I should be free to display my opinions and questionable taste just like anybody else without the government censoring me. In an ideal world — until then, I’m pseudonymerific.

  19. Kevin Smith says:

    I work in North Carolina and am fairly interested in this case. We had a teacher in Wilmington several years ago who almost got fired for putting “niggardly” on a spelling word list (she sued, won, then quit)and some of the comments from administrators (administraitors? ever noticed the similarity?) would have been right at home in a SNL skit about ignorant people. I expect she will be fired, sue, and win.

  20. Cal, I didn’t realize how much specific identifying information was given on the blog you referred to.

    With all this stuff, I think one ought to be cautious. Even if you could expect to win a suit to be reinstated after being fired for something you typed on Facebook, who wants to go through that for some crappy off-hand comment? Protect free speech sure, but I’d save that degree of professional and personal hardship and suffering for an idea I’d given a lot more thought to or wanted to stand up for.

    While I think Miller Smith is actually wrong in some of his claims about what’s legally enforceable, I do wonder if sometimes people don’t assume that FERPA covers issues are actually probably more extensively covered by the professional standards organizations that certify teachers than by FERPA itself. Basically, some aspects of professionalism in regard to student’s (real or imagined) expectation of privacy aren’t really a matter of the “records” or school tracked performance that I think FERPA mainly deals with. I know a lot of stuff about my students that I didn’t necessarily learn in the professional context of my job that it would probably be technically legal for me to divulge on a blog, but a lot of it would be pretty unprofessional.

    I don’t mean incidental things I observe at school as part of my work day that are somehow outside of the scope of my professional duties (which could arguable still be informal school records, I guess, even though the often legally adult students are aware they are in public); I mean stuff you learn reading the paper or living in the community where you teach. You don’t have FERPA protection from being IDed as having been caught drunk and naked at a local park, but if a teacher wants to be regarded as a professional, she probably shouldn’t blog about it.

    But honestly, I’m kind of perplexed by bloggers who want to have well-developed online personae who want to do a whole lot of detailed personal and emotional venting anyway. What’s up with that from a psychiatric perspective? There are very few people’s diaries that I want to read. Who imagines that other people want to read theirs?

  21. When things like this happen, all the teacher bloggers take notice, discuss, etc.

    If the principals and administrators, as a whole, noticed as well, and provided an internal forum to voice comments like this, wouldn’t that help keep things under control? To use someone else’s word, it could ‘salvage’ these teachers without their comments being made public.

    It’s just proactive vs. reactive, I guess. Just saying.