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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Teachers union files lawsuit against Florida school district's social networking policy



The proposed new rules regulating how Manatee County teachers use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites aren't even approved yet. But the local teachers union decided it couldn't wait.

As we reported in one of our morning round-ups, the Manatee Education Association filed suit against the Manatee school district Friday, saying the district's proposed policy violates rights to free speech, privacy, due process and collective bargaining. We thought you'd like to read the full complaint for yourself, so we obtained a copy and included a link at the end of this post.

Here's but one nugget from the suit, which was drawn up by Florida Education Association lawyer Peter J. Caldwell:

"Proposed Policy 4.7 also restricts the private activities of District employees by requiring discipline for blogging, Facebooking, or otherwise making statements which the District, in its sole discretion, deems 'inappropriate.' The Policy states that, 'any inappropriate statements, documents, or photographs viewed by the public reflects poorly on the District as a whole and can negatively impact the school setting and subject the employee to discipline.' The Policy leaves ambiguous whether a small number of Facebook 'friends,' rather than a large and open-access group, would satisfy the meaning of 'viewed by the public.' Nor does it require any degree of certainty that employee statements were indeed 'viewed by the public' before imposing discipline, or otherwise prevent the District from taking adverse action at its sole discretion."

Here's background on the issue from the Bradenton Herald and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

We're not legal experts, but we can't help but wonder: Will this suit (and others like it) complicate how other school districts go about trying to regulate how teachers and other employees use social networking?

The Pinellas school board began tip-toeing into this topic at its Oct. 5 workshop. But the emphasis was on how teachers use social networking to communicate with students and when something is or isn't public record. Board attorney Jim Robinson said at the beginning of his presentation that the Pinellas teachers union needed to be involved with the discussion.

[Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 5:52pm]


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