Policy Restricts Private Social Media Use for Teachers in NJ District

The Board of Education of Lacey, New Jersey has introduced a new social media policy for its faculty and staff that could see employees threatened with layoffs if they post inappropriate things to their private social media profiles. According to the Lacey Patch, the intent of the policy is to hold the district staff to a "higher standard," but critics are alleging that it is an attempt to exert control over the private time and personal expression of employees.

The first draft of the policy was approved after a reading at the latest school board meeting and it states – in part – that inappropriate posts, pictures or any other communication made on services like Facebook and Twitter could make non-tenured staff subject to termination and could result in loss of tenure for those who already have it.

"While the board respects the right of staff members to use social networking sites, staff members should recognize they are held to a higher standard than the general public with regard to standards of conduct and ethics," the policy states.

The policy was not the result of an existing problem in the school district but simply a matter of staying current, board President Eric Schubiger said. It is meant to be a guiding "framework" for the district.

The "higher standard" was stressed repeatedly as the policy was discussed. Schubiger said that it isn't the policy's intent to exert control over the employees' private lives yet considering that the social media rules extend beyond the working hours to the time the staff are off the clock, it's a difficult assertion to defend. The attorney for the school board, Arthur Stein, said that a lot of distinct policies already take as a given that district employees – especially teachers – are community role models and should behave accordingly both on and off campus.

How enforceable such a policy is remains uncertain, however.

A recent New York Times article noted multiple cases within the private sector in which the decision to terminate an employee over a post on a social networking platform was overruled.

According to the article, labor regulators have declared some restrictions illegal, stating that workers have the right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution whether at the office or on Facebook.

Private sector employees are not necessarily held to that same "higher standard," Stein said.

Stein wouldn't allow himself to be committed to a for-instance. He didn't say, for example, what the punishment would be for a teacher to be photographed at a bar. He only said that even private behavior could be considered public when it is put on the web for others to see, although if the picture is online as part of a closed Facebook page, that might constitute "mitigation."

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