Thursday, November 12, 2009
Teacher Ashley Payne Experiences Facebook Related Pain?
At what point does a teacher give up the right to have her own life outside of the classroom? That seems to be a question that extends to both sides of the controversy surrounding Ashley Payne. The Facebook account of Payne, a language arts teacher at Apalachee High School in Georgia, launched a controversy concerning the private life of teachers. School administrators questioned the material she posted on her Facebook page which included pictures of her trip to Europe. She also posted comments about a game she plays with friends. (Photos show Ashley holding beer mugs and glasses of wine. The game referred to on her account was apparently "Bitch Bingo.") Payne claims that none of the material was inappropriate. However, she says she was pressured to resign because a parent complained about a picture of her holding a drink in her hand.
Payne is now suing to get her job back. We endorse her right to do so.
Barrow County Schools officials responded to the former high school English teacher's lawsuit by saying that the 24-year-old teacher jumped at the chance to resign after officials told her she could be suspended because of photographs and profanity on her Facebook page. According to school officials, Payne quit before officials could explain the school's disciplinary process or her right to a personnel hearing.
Has their been a violation of the Georgia Fair Dismissal Act? It is clear that no one told her she was entitled to a hearing or that a suspension would not have lasted more than 10 days, according to her attorney, Richard Storrs. However, the schools response is equally clear, "...these disclosures were precluded by Plaintiff's request to resign." It is the school's position that a teacher who resigns is not entitled to a hearing.
School district officials are seeking to dismiss the suit. Payne is seeking compensation for back pay with reinstatement of her job. The rest of us are interested in what if any rights teachers have with regard to their private lives. If a teacher can be disciplined for being photographed with an alcoholic beverage, can they also be disciplined for drinking in public? Is the same true for school officials at the Christmas Party at an administrator's home?
Update 11-16-09: Ashley, if you want to give us an update, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update 12-28-09: An excellent written report is available to the public at LINK. The author, Maureen Downey, theorizes that the anonymous parent of a student never existed. Rather, it was likely a fellow teacher with access to her account that sent the anonymous email complaining of Ms. Payne's facebook page. The link above contains the actual email complaint and the school's response.