BRADENTON — A frustrated local middle school teacher posted on his Facebook page that he hated his students and his job.
When Manatee County School District officials found out, they ordered him to take the comment down, then suspended him for five days.
Now district leaders are proposing new rules that would prohibit teachers from posting negative comments or photos about the district, its employees or its students on social networking sites.
If approved by the school board, teachers also would have to get written permission from parents if they intend to communicate with students using sites like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace. Even personal e-mail outside the normal school setting would not be allowed unless a parent signs a consent form 10 days in advance. The proposed policy would prohibit employees from using the school district’s name in online forums unless they are a district spokesperson.
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Manatee, like some surrounding districts including Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough, have social networking systems blocked from their computer systems.
“But we recognized employees have their own computers at home and can access them there,” school board attorney John Bowen said. “Some districts say you’re prohibited from participating in them, we just require you conduct yourself the same way in the classroom as at home. We’re not saying don’t communicate with your students, we’re saying if you do, make it professional. You’re held to the same standards of conduct as you are in the classroom. You don’t say, ‘I hate you kids’ in the classroom so you shouldn’t be saying it on your social networking site either.”
Neither Sarasota, Pinellas or Hillsborough school districts have a specific policy like the one Manatee school officials are trying to pass.
Bruce Proud, business agent for Manatee County Education Association, said the local teachers union had sent the proposed policy to its lawyers for review. He said Tuesday they could not comment on it until he hears back from the attorneys.
But he did say their lawyers had dealt with a similar proposed policy in the Santa Rosa School District. School leaders there passed the policy but had to rescind it, said Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick.
The local teachers union threatened to sue, saying it violated teacher privacy rights.
But Bowen disagrees.
“It tells the employees these are publicly owned computers and they have no right or expectation of privacy and should be held accountable,” he said. “When you’re using the technology the district provides you, it is for that purpose, to do your job and nothing else except for incidental matters.”
The school board during its regular meeting Monday will review the proposed policy. A public hearing on the matter, pending the board’s approval that night, is set for Oct. 25.