Teachers and Technology: Your Rights
Despite free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, online indecency would fall under general district or institutional guidelines banning inappropriate behavior both in and outside of school. Courts have rules that schools can regulate off-campus speech if such speech can be demonstrated to have an adverse impact on the campus. Teachers and other school staff have been dismissed and/or suspended because of the content on their social networking sites. School staff may also be held responsible for content posted about them, either by other individuals such as students or by organizations. It pays to protect yourself. Know Your Rights!
REMEMBER: You Have the Right to Representation!
- Every school has a union representative whose job it is to help you in situations just like this. Many teachers are convinced by their school’s administrators to resign rather than go through the formal review process. That process is your right and exists so administrators are prevented from shaming or pressuring teachers into resigning.
- If you are confronted with digital content that your administrator says is inappropriate, you should always discuss the matter with your union representative.
REMEMBER: Teachers do not have privacy when using any school technology.
- Schools can be held liable for failing to detect “indecent” material. Therefore, teachers are not guaranteed privacy when using any school technology.
- Federal Rules of Civil Procedures require all public entities to archive electronic documents for legal proceedings. If they are unable to produce the documents, juries are permitted to assume that they contain incriminating evidence, which makes it prudent for schools to archive ALL e-mails.
- Employers are not required by law to disclose to their employees that they are being electronically monitored. The only places where employees can expect to be free from surveillance are in bathrooms and locker rooms.
- Electronic Monitoring may include: video surveillance, telephone monitoring, e-mail and voice mail monitoring, computer keystroke tracking, Internet website monitoring, location tracking in badges, and satellite tracking of company vehicles.
REMEMBER: Teachers are held liable for much of what they post online, but are offered minimal protection in return.
- Nearly every state imposes a “conduct unbecoming” standard on teacher behavior both inside and outside the classroom.
- There is no official definition for “conduct unbecoming” and local definitions are rarely consistent. What may be acceptable in California may not be acceptable in Alabama, and what may be acceptable one year may not be in subsequent years.
- Governments are able to fire employees if their speech is deemed to harm the workplace’s mission and function. Most states let the local governing authority determine if harm was done.
What Students Say
In a 2006 survey, one-third of teens reported that they regularly posted inaccurate information or manipulated images on the Web. Most of this misinformation is directed at other students, but 26 percent target teachers and principals.
How much protection the law provides from malicious student posts is a legal gray area, however, in many circumstances the law does protect teachers against inaccurate and inappropriate student posts. If a student posts inaccurate or inappropriate information about you or a colleague, you should immediately contact your union representative so that your rights are protected.
- In addition to student posts on social networking websites, students often take advantage of the site RateMyTeacher.com. This site offers students the ability to rate and comment on teachers anonymously. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that anonymous speech is protected.