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Saving Face: Protect Yourself from Internet Entanglements
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Saving Face: Protect Yourself from Internet Entanglements

Teachers throughout Ohio and the nation are getting tangled in Internet controversies that are sparking debates about free speech and what school employees are allowed to do on their own time and on their own computers.

Teachers have First Amendment rights to do anything lawful on non-working time. But the OEA urges teachers to exercise discretion and common sense when using modern media and technology.

While teachers have the same free speech rights as any other citizens, they may be dismissed based on “immoral or unprofessional conduct.” Placing personal information and photos on MySpace, Facebook, SecondLife and similar sites can open the door to problems if messages left by “friends” or links to their pages contain content that could be considered questionable.

Social networking sites can also blur the boundaries between teacher and student in a way that can cause problems. The fact that a student can attempt to contact an OEA member who has a profile on these sites lends itself to the possible interpretation of an improper relationship. Because of the high standards placed on school employees and the risk of job and career loss, the OEA recommends avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Teachers need to remember that they are adults and that, with technology, everything can be traced back to the user—even if you are away from the school site.

MySpace and Facebook pages, even blogs can be used as evidence in disciplinary proceedings by school districts and the Office of Professional Conduct at the Ohio Department of Education. These proceedings potentially affect not only a teacher’s current job but his/her teaching license.
 
OEA members who find themselves impersonated on a site like MySpace or ridiculed on YouTube should immediately notify the operators of those websites. They should also immediately notify their Labor Relations Consultant, building or local representative and their school administrator.

If someone is writing about you or pretending to be you in a blog, on a MySpace page or other website, e-mail the person who did it and tell them they do not have your permission. You will have to open an account on that site to send them e-mail. Tell them that you strongly suggest they take it down. Then contact the website administrator, your local representative and your school administrator.

It’s important to act quickly, because when students impersonate teachers or put videos of them on YouTube without their consent, it can damage a career.

In its fine print, the YouTube website stipulates that written permission must be obtained from every person who is “identifiable” in a video to be aired on its site. And school employees have used that to their advantage.

It’s more difficult to get a fake MySpace page removed, say teachers, since a new “profile” can be posted the next day. MySpace requires a subpoena before releasing the name of the person who is impersonating you. Those who have attempted to obtain subpoenas have sometimes met with frustration at the hands of local law enforcement and even the FBI.

If you want to avoid Web entanglements, consider the following:

  • When communicating with students outside the school environment, maintain a professional relationship. Do not speak, write, text message or instant message about anything that you wouldn’t talk about in front of your whole class with your administrator/evaluator and a group of parents standing right next to you.
     
  • Google your name every few months and see what pops up.
     
  • Do not use your school computer for any personal matter. And do not access home email from your school computer.
     
  • If you are ever questioned by an administrator about Internet activity that could lead to disciplinary action, initiate your rights to have a union representative present before answering questions. You must initiate those rights—it is not the responsibility of administrators to tell you to get a rep or even suggest it. If you are ever contacted by the police or a law enforcement agency over Internet use, do not speak. Contact your local association immediately and get a lawyer.
     
  • If you have a MySpace, SecondLife, blogger or other such account, know that you are responsible for what you post. Don’t put in anything that you wouldn’t write as an editorial to all major newspa¬pers. Even if you take it down someday in the future, someone else may have copied it or referenced it and put it in their blog.
     
  • If you have a MySpace, YouTube, SecondLife, blog or other such account that you created prior to teaching, review it. To be safe, take it down. Your life before becoming a teacher was your life. Now that you have a credential, you are held to a higher standard. Some violations could lead to your losing your credential—in other words, all future employment possibilities in education.
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