District places teacher on leave after private tweets - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

District places teacher on leave after private tweets to students

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The North Kansas School District has placed a teacher on administrative leave. This comes after the teacher made what the superintendent said were inappropriate tweets to students in a private forum.

The Oak Park High School teacher is accused of violating district policy relating to staff-student relations.

The district placed the teacher on paid administrative leave after KCTV5 saw the tweets in question and asked district officials about them. The teacher is on administrative leave while the issue is investigated, a district spokeswoman said Wednesday afternoon.

The teacher's Twitter account, which was originally a locked account that the user had to grant access for others to see the tweets, has since been deleted.

Teachers and students will use Facebook and Twitter to discuss assignments and activities.

But in this case, the teacher sent tweets over the past several months that some might consider demeaning to students, including females and minorities. Students and former students had access to view the tweets.

Here are several examples:

"Don't get cocky. You only win because you have different parts and smell good #GirlsSheesh."

"If you don't say nice things about me, I will hunt you down and stab you #rawr."

"Wondering if I could get fired for submitting thoroughly inappropriate tweets to the yearbook crew. #ShuttingUpCauseILoveMyJob."

"A 17-year-old student just asked me how to spell 'college.' Guess where she will never go."

"That awkward moment when you realize the girls who are fighting over you were born when you were 25. #Grandpa"

"Sometimes a locked Twitter account is your best friend."

Todd White, the district's superintendent, said the tweets violated district policy because they occurred in a "locked forum" that administrators couldn't monitor.

While White found the tweets inappropriate, he said whether the tweets were inappropriate or not did not matter. He said the private nature of the forum is the crux of the issue under district policy.

He explained that it would have been similar to the teacher taking a group of students into a classroom, turning out the lights, locking the doors and have a conversation "that has no educational interest of value." White said that would be inappropriate whether face to face or via social media. He said no conversation should occur via social media that couldn't occur face to face.

He said protecting students includes their physical, social and emotional well being. District officials must always be mindful that they are responsible for the care and control of students, the superintendent said.

"Our responsibility is to make sure that students have a safe learning environment, and that includes all sorts of safety," White said. "And when those questions become questionable, we're going to take it serious. We're going to look at it. We're going to investigate it as we have in this case."

Teachers can use social media, but it needs to go through the school so that parents and administrators can monitor the communication and know about it. The North Kansas City has a program in place that allows teachers to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites in an open forum in compliance with district policy. 

"If you're going to use any social media tools, it should be in your syllabus," said Marla Walker, NKC's e-Campus coordinator. "It should be stated up front so parents know."

A teacher can also have a private account that has privacy settings on it that prohibit students from participating whether via Twitter or Facebook.

KCTV5 is not naming the teacher or the students involved. Students of the teacher took to social media Wednesday night to defend and praise him.

The Missouri General Assembly had passed a law in 2011 that barred teachers from being Facebook friends with students and other provisions. Because of a court challenge, legislators later that year repealed the law. Gov. Jay Nixon signed the repeal into law.

A separate law required districts to develop polices preventing improper communications between employees and students via electronic media.

Experts say it's a balancing act between privacy concerns and freedom of speech issues.

No laws were broken in the case involving the Oak Park high teacher.

Jennifer Friend, a professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City's school of education, said social media is a great teaching tool, and she said it makes teachers more accessible and approachable. But teachers should always use best practices when on social media, she said.

"I think teachers are held to a higher standard, and so it's important that they have professional judgement and that they maintain high ethical standards in their behavior, especially when it comes to students," Friend said. "We know that it's important for teachers to have positive relationships with students."

White concurred.

"No one loses their constitutional rights entering or leaving a school building," the superintendent said. "It's a matter of the professionalism and the appropriateness given the responsibilities that we carry. When we are talking about what teachers should or should not do with regards to social media, it's really to use common sense."

Social media should be used to enhance or advance learning opportunities for students, Friend said.

"The lines between personal and professional can get blurred when it comes to a lot of the advances in technology," she said.

Watch much more on KCTV5's It's Your Morning and share your thoughts on KCTV5's Facebook page. Click here.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.

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