Community Blog: The EDge

After Facebook flap, Pocatello schools craft social media policy

Months after teacher Laraine Cook was fired over a risqué Facebook photo — sparking a controversy that attracted national and international media attention — the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District is inching its way toward establishing a social media policy.

The policy will be up for second reading at Tuesday’s board meeting. And the policy makes it clear that a district employee can still lose a job over what he or she shares over social media.

“When using social media for personal postings and comments on the sites of others, even when a student may not be ‘friended’ or directly included in the communication, be advised that an employee has very limited control over what occurs with these postings,” the policy says. “Oftentimes such private postings and electronic communications become ‘public’ and could cause an employee embarrassment or could cause unintended certification/licensure issues and unintended employment consequences. Inappropriate postings on social media sites could lead to discipline, up to and including termination and could lead to a certificated employee’s suspension or loss of a teaching credential.”

That’s what nearly happened to Cook, a teacher and coach of the Pocatello High School girls basketball team. She was fired in October after a photo surfaced on Facebook, showing fiancé Tom Harrison touching her clothed breast. Harrison was reprimanded.

In January, the school board voted to offer Cook her coaching job back. This came after a grievance panel recommended the district reinstate Cook — and enact a social media policy. In February, the state’s Professional Standards Commission looked into the complaint against Cook, and found insufficient basis for disciplinary action.

The proposed social media policy also cautions employees from communicating with students or parents on social media sites — or posting anything “that will negatively portray the employee and/or the district.” Staffers who are aware of any inappropriate postings are expected to report them to the state’s Professional Standards Commission, or risk “certification consequences” of their own.

(To read the proposed social media policy for yourself, scroll to pages 115-117 of the school board’s meeting packet.)

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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