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11/1/2014

Facebook misstep gets Abington substitute teacher fired - The Boston Globe

Teacher fired over friending


By Constance Lindner
Globe Correspondent / May 26, 2011
An Abington High School substitute teacher and boys tennis coach has been fired following what
school officials deemed his inappropriate communication with students on Facebook.
Jon OKeefe, a 31-year-old Waltham resident hired early this year to replace a teacher on maternity
leave, was dismissed last week and ordered off school property while school officials, aided by police,
investigate the matter, said Abington Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer.
We have an ethics policy about appropriate boundaries and behavior, and certainly friending
students on a social network is not an appropriate boundary to cross, Schafer said this week. He
declined to reveal the nature of the allegedly inappropriate communication between OKeefe and the
students.
OKeefe could not be reached for comment.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case, said Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz. Abington police Deputy Chief Christopher Cutter said his
department was still investigating as of early this week.
Abingtons policy about appropriate boundaries and ethical behavior is similar to that recommended
for all school districts by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees last fall to help
prevent improper fraternization with students on Facebook and other social media.
Among the associations guidelines are that employees conduct themselves in ways that do not
distract from the educational process . . . [by] improper fraternization with students using Facebook
and similar Internet sites or social networks, or via cellphone, texting, or telephone . . . [or] list
current students as friends on networking sites.
Recommendations for employees making electronic contact with students include that the contact be
made only with the districts computer and telephone system and using group texts to all sports team
members, as opposed to individual players.
The policy warns employees of the possibility of penalties, including dismissal from employment,
for failure to exercise good judgment in online conduct.
Were suggesting as a matter of policy that teachers not be able to friend their students on social
media like Facebook and that contact be related and restricted to school, said the associations
executive director, Glenn Koocher. This is a very dangerous area, and social media can easily
become an invitation for trouble.
Indeed, reports of Facebook career-enders run the gamut, ranging from three New York teachers
fired for inappropriate Facebook communication with students to a Cohasset educator who quit after
posting comments on her Facebook account disparaging her students and the wider community.
In the Atlanta area, a teacher was dismissed after someone with access to her private Facebook
account forwarded her employer a photograph of the young woman with an alcoholic beverage in
hand and an expletive-containing caption below.
School officials say that social media have become such a part of everyday life that it is seen as
natural to connect online, with little thought of how much trouble could follow.
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11/1/2014

Facebook misstep gets Abington substitute teacher fired - The Boston Globe

Use of social media starts early, too, and is often unsupervised, according to a survey appearing in
the June 2011 issue of Consumer Reports. According to the publication, 7.5 million of the 20 million
minors using Facebook are younger than 13 and more than 5 million are younger than 10. And 1
million of those have reported being the victim of cyberbullying or other unpleasant experiences, the
report says.
Every year we have more episodes exposed, and we fear that for every one we find out about there
were probably many we didnt find out about, said Koocher.
He said that while some may argue that free speech isnt checked at the schoolhouse door and
prohibiting it might not withstand legal challenge, many schools south of Boston have either adopted
the associations policy or developed their own guidelines to address the issue of appropriate conduct
for school personnel.
The Weymouth School Committee voted last December to make official the associations
recommendations regarding online friendships between students and teachers, amending it slightly
two weeks ago to permit employees to share in social media with Weymouth Public Schools students
who are family members.
Otherwise, the Weymouth school administration prohibits electronic communication by district
employees that isnt appropriate, professional, and for educational purposes and advises against
sharing of personal accounts, web pages, or social networks with students.
Cohassets Schools Policy and Standards Subcommittee is in the process of putting that policy in
place, as well, according to interim schools superintendent David DeGennaro.
Social media [have] the potential to be an incredibly powerful educational tool, enabling
collaboration and communication that is unprecedented, but it also allows unsupervised
communication that can lead to real problems, said Matt Ferron, acting superintendent of the
Weymouth Public Schools.
Some teachers in Weymouth have used Facebook as an effective teaching tool, which is an
appropriate use, but its the stuff that goes on in private lives that causes trouble, said Ferron.
Hingham Public Schools Superintendent Dorothy Galo said her administration doesnt specifically
have a policy for social media but has other policies that address proper boundaries between staff
and students.
In Abington, School Committee chairman Russell Fitzgerald pointed out that the situation in
question was not about Facebook but a teacher making an inappropriate decision to contact students
on a nonschool issue.
Constance Lindner can be reached at cl0734@gmail.com.
Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.

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