A school district in New Jersey is taking the first steps that could lead to the firing of a high school English teacher whose anti-gay remarks on Facebook sparked a heated debate over free speech rights.
The Township of Union school board formally filed tenure charges against Viki Knox in late December, a move that could lead to her termination. "Every student, no matter what race, creed, color or sexual orientation ought to be able to come to school and feel comfortable in a learning environment that's welcoming and nurturing," School Board President Ray Perkins told nj.com.
In an interview with msnbc.com on Thursday, Perkins said the case is now in the hands of the New Jersey Department of Education, which will investigate and ultimately make a decision on Knox's future. "If the assertions are proven to be true," he said, "it warrants termination."
A phone call by msnbc.com to Township of Union school Superintendent Patrick Martin wasn't immediately returned.
In September, Knox was placed on leave after she reportedly posted on Facebook that homosexuality is "a perverted spirit" and a "sin" that "breeds like cancer," nj.com reported.
"Why parade your unnatural immoral behaviors before the rest of us?" a woman identified as Viki Knox wrote on Facebook. "I DO NOT HAVE TO TOLERATE ANYTHING OTHERS WISH TO DO. I DO HAVE TO LOVE AND SPEAK AND DO WHAT'S RIGHT!"
Across the country, school districts are grappling with how to handle social media use among employees, particularly teachers. Administrators worry about offensive or controversial comments or inappropriate relationships on Facebook between students and teachers.
Several cases have made national headlines including:
- ABronx high school principal whose Facebook photo of her with a shirtless man prompted many to question her judgement.
- A Chicago teacher who posted a photo of a young student on her Facebook page and then mocked her hairstyle.
- A N.J. teacher who posted on Facebook that the children in her class are "future criminals" and that she feels like a "warden."
New York City, which has the nation’s largest school district, has been working for months on a social media policy, which could be in place by spring, according to the New York Times. In Missouri, a new law will require all districts to have a social media policy in place by March. Other districts, like Dayton Public Schools in Ohio, are in the process of introducing policies that bans teachers from friending, messaging or texting students.
“I see it as protecting teachers,” David A. Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association, told the New York Times in December. “For a relationship to start with friending or texting seems to be heading down the wrong path professionally.”
Perkins told msnbc.com that the Township of Union school board isn't formally talking about any social media policies that would restrict the use of social media between teachers and students. But the school attorney has spoken to employees about "appropriate interactions" on Facebook.
"It's a difficult issue," said Perkins, who noted that social media space is no different than other places where teachers might encounter students, whether in a school hallway or off campus. "We trust teachers to treat students with respect and to deal with them appropriately," he said.
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