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Teacher Fired for 'Friending' Students Online

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

A 79-year-old substitute teacher from New Hampshire was fired after she refused to "unfriend" her students on Facebook.

Carol Thebarge had been teaching in the Claremont, New Hampshire school district for more than 30 years when she was apparently given an ultimatum from school officials to delete her students as Facebook friends or face termination, according to New Hampshire's WMUR9-TV.

School administrators don't argue that Thebarge was a good teacher, but written school policies forced them to let her go.

Freedom of Expression?

Although some might argue that Thebarge was exercising her right to free speech by communicating with students on Facebook, the school district disagreed. While teachers are allowed to exercise their freedom of expression outside of school, and even publicly criticize the school on issues of public importance, teachers are usually restricted from materially disrupting the educational interest of the school district. This may also mean that teachers aren't allowed to adversely affect working relationships at the school.

On one hand, it may be disruptive for teachers and students to connect on social media because the student could become privy to the teacher's private life. That could affect the student's respect for the teacher or potentially lead to harassment.

However, Thebarge's students found that being able to communicate with her on Facebook helped them get through tough times at home when her kids needed someone to talk to, a student told WMUR9-TV.

Facebook and School Policies

Thebarge believes that the strict enforcement of the school's Facebook policy occurred after another Claremont teacher was accused of sexually assaulting a student, according to WMUR9-TV.

Although Thebarge and other teachers may only have altruistic motives when connecting with her students on Facebook, some school districts have attempted to create strict limitations for teacher-student friendships on social networks.

For example, Missouri legislators attempted to create law that prevented teachers from establishing, maintaining, or using a work-related website unless school administrators or the child's legal guardian had access to it. The law also banned teachers from having nonwork-related websites that allowed exclusive access with current or former students. However, the law was later repealed by the governor over free speech concerns because it may have prevented teachers from using social media completely.

Thebarge won't be contesting her dismissal, but she hopes that the school district will re-evaluate its social medial policy, reports WMUR9-TV.

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