The issue of disciplining employees for their use, or more accurately, misuse of social media is one that is frequently in the headlines, and this is never more true than when it involves an educator. Recently the New Jersey State Board of Examiners denied the appeal of a teacher seeking to overturn the one year suspension of her teaching certificate following the posting of inappropriate comments on the teacher’s Facebook page.
Yvette Nicholas, an elementary school teacher with thirteen years teaching experience was suspended by her school district when the school administration became aware of comments that she posted on her Facebook page ridiculing the name of one of her student’s because a syllable sounded like an expletive. Some of her comments on her Facebook page included “I want to ask the parents if they can change it [the name]” and “I literally cannot stop laughing!”
Following her suspension, Ms. Nicholas resigned voluntarily from her teaching position. The State Board of Examiners then independently suspended her teaching certificate for one year. Although the teacher acknowledged her lapse in judgment and expressed remorse, the Board of Examiners found that, regardless of whether the teacher had intended her comments to be made public, her conduct was immature and hurtful and “falls far below role model status that is expected of teachers.” The Board did state that it took into account the teacher’s previous unblemished record and limited its discipline to a one-year suspension as opposed to a revocation of her certificate.
Social media comments by educators, particularly when made about students and co-workers, are subject to a disciplinary response, not just from the school district, but from state licensing boards as well.