LAKELAND -- All Manatee County schoolteachers should heed an appeals court ruling this week that rejected a drama teacher’s request to overturn his suspension because of improper Facebook postings, said John Bowen, the school board’s attorney.
“This ruling makes it clear that the district’s Code of Ethics covers teachers’ conduct any time, no matter what; whether you’re in class, at the mall, on the beach, on social media or on the telephone,” Bowen said Friday. “I think this will bring attention to the fact that you shouldn’t be out there having inappropriate interactions with students feeling that, ‘I’m not at school so it doesn’t matter.’”
Willis, who taught at Braden River High, was originally Willis, who taught at Braden River High, was originally suspended without pay in October 2010 after Schools Supt. Tim McGonegal recommended he be terminated. Willis’ Facebook page had been found to include several references to vulgar phrases, some sexual content and an interaction about a reprimand he had received from district officials for showing an unauthorized movie. In addition, Willis had “friended” 120 students.
While an administrative law judge ruled in January 2011 that Willis’ behavior was inappropriate, the judge also ruled he should not lose his job. The school board voted in May 2011 to maintain Willis’ suspension and remove his tenure. It also voted to switch Willis from a professional services contract to an annual contract, which would require the recommendation of his principal and McGonegal to return to the classroom.
Willis’ attorney, Melissa Mihok, argued both before the school board in a filing to the 2nd District Court of Appeals that the school board had no right to make that decision because the district did not have a policy that specifically addressed Facebook conduct.
McGonegal had insisted Willis violated the district’s Code of Ethics by failing to have the development of his students’ potential as his primary professional concern, among other items. The appeals court’s ruling, released Feb. 1, upheld McGonegal’s position and the school board’s decision.