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Yakima teacher and student privacy practices under scrutiny following teacher Facebook post
posted by: Cindy Omlin | September 07, 2017, 04:16 PM   

A Yakima, WA, teacher frustrated with his district’s policy on student privacy posted a comment to his personal Facebook account that has potentially landed him in hot water with his school district. His concern relates to the issue of the district requiring him to deceive parents, an act apparently advised in order to comply with privacy statutes, such as the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act regarding student "confidential health and education information."

Regarding the controversy, Yakima Herald reporter Molly Rosbach quotes Kirsten Fitterer, Yakima School District community relations director,

“The district wants to honor staff members’ opportunity for free speech, she said, but as employees, “You still have to take care in what it is that you write, and that you are conforming to policy and procedure. All staff members, and especially as teachers, know that we are bound by state law; we are bound by our operational procedures. If you’re not going to follow them, maybe you aren’t choosing the right profession.”

NWPE’s legal team urges members to use caution when using Facebook, texting, and other social media platforms. See Social Media for Teachers: Guides, Resources, and Ideas for tips and review NWPE’s advice in Facebook & Texting: Caution!!

The Center for Public Education writes regarding employee free speech in Free Speech and Public Schools:

The main U.S. Supreme Court case is Pickering v. Board of Education, which held that freedom of speech—while not absolute—gives employees Constitutional protection if they are speaking about issues of a public nature, rather than those things about which they have a personal stake. Pickering overturned a school district’s decision to fire a teacher for commenting on school expenditures through letters in a local newspaper.
For example, if a teacher criticized a building’s weak leadership and lax coordination between grades, it would likely be considered a comment about matters of public interest. If that same teacher complained publicly that she thought she was being unfairly targeted for classroom observations and undesirable assignments, a school district would likely be within their rights to react.

But even standing on principles of public concern is not sacrosanct. Employees can still be disciplined based on that expression (like publicly criticizing supervisors) if the district believes that it will impede the employee’s ability to perform assigned duties, or the speech will undermine supervisory authority, disrupt the school, or destroy close working relationships.

If you have questions about student privacy laws, free speech or academic freedom rights as a public school employee, please contact NWPE.

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