School district weighs limits on teachers' Facebook use

BRADENTON — A local teachers' union is fighting a Manatee County School District policy proposal that would govern how teachers and other employees can use Facebook and other online social networks.

School board members were slated to vote on the controversial matter Monday night, but it was pulled from the board meeting agenda after the Manatee Education Association filed a complaint with the state claiming the new rules violate a teachers' right to privacy and speech.

The union is asking the Division of Administrative Hearings' judicial board to rule against the proposed policy which, if approved, prohibits teachers from posting pictures or comments that cast the district, teachers or students in a negative light. It also requires teachers to get written permission from parents if they want to communicate with students on those websites, or by personal e-mail. It comes after a local middle school teacher last year posted on his Facebook page that he hated his students and his job. When district leaders found out, they suspended him for five days.

"This policy says the district, if they find negative comments on your personal Facebook, that you could be disciplined whether you're communicating with students or not. I think that's going a little far," said Bruce Proud, business agent for the Manatee County Education Association. "How do they determine what's disagreeable to them or offensive to them? This policy gives them the determination of whether they don't like it, and they can discipline you for it."

School board attorney John Bowen Monday defended the policy he drafted saying it contained valid rules.

"It's really doesn't change anything," he said. "They seem to be upset we're trying to govern their private communications and we're not doing anything different, we're just reminding them that they are subject to the code of ethics and principals of the teaching profession which govern them anyway."

Bowen said the district will wait to see what the state determines before voting on the proposed policy.

A hearing is set Nov. 19.

Read more of this story at