Facebook post of photo showing hand on breast gets school coach fired

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks

A US school basketball coach who posted a photo onto Facebook that showed her fiancé's hand on her breast has been fired, but her varsity football coach fiancé was let off the hook with only a reprimand.

According to The Independent, the photo was taken during a summer vacation.

The image shows the former coach, Laraine Cook, in a bikini in front of a lake with her fiancé, Tom Harrison.

Facebook post

Mr. Harrison is an American varsity football coach at the same school, Pocatello High School, in Idaho School District 25.

He kept his job, receiving only a reprimand.

If you're like me, the first thing that will have popped into your head was that there must be an arcane law regarding punishment accruing to the person whose body part is held in Facebook photos, vs. the person doing the holding (i.e. holder is exempt, whereas holdee is fired).

Therefore, those who seek retribution need only go hold somebody's something and then proceed to circulate a photo of said holding.

But this is, in fact, neither accurate nor relevant. Apparently, neither are the 10 state championships Harrison won for the school since 1982, nor his induction into the Idaho High School Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Rather, Cook said that officials told the couple she was getting fired because she was the one who posted the photo on Facebook.

Ms. Cook, for her part, told Local 8 News that she'd like to return to coaching and teaching and doesn't feel that the photo was worth losing a job over:

I don't feel that photo was something to have me terminated on. I don't feel that it's an immoral photo, and that's what the termination is based on.

I would love to be able to coach those girls again. I love teaching. I love coaching. I love working with the kids.

I don't do it because the money is great. I do it because I really enjoy it.

School district spokesperson Shelley Allen told news outlets that authorities are not moved by the fact that some parents, rather than being appalled by breasts, hands and/or photos of them together, have asked for the coach to be reinstated:

Parents expressed their concerns and asked the administration to reinstate Coach Cook.

After discussion between superintendent [Mary] Vagner, secondary director Bob Devine, human resources director Doug Howell and Pocatello High School administration, it was decided that the decision would remain.

According to the Idaho State Journal, Vagner has refused to comment on the case, citing personnel privacy.

She did, however, tell the journal to check out the Code of Ethics of the Idaho Teaching Profession.

Under that code’s section on “Commitment to the Profession,” there is a statement that teachers “shall not engage in conduct which is offensive to the ordinary dignity, decency, and morality of others.”

In fact, as the journal noted, the assistant general counsel for the National Education Association, Michael Simpson, has warned teachers about the dangers of social media.

He wrote:

Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise. Thanks to Facebook and MySpace, what used to be private is now very public.

Simpson gives a slew of examples of teachers being punished for social media postings. As of 2010, he said, there had been only three court cases involving teachers who claimed that their First Amendment rights were violated by being punished because of their postings on social networking sites.

The results weren't good, he wrote:

The teachers lost every case.

Until they acquire tenure, Simpson says, most beginning teachers can be fired for any reason at all, including no reason whatsoever, given that they're not entitled to know why or to have a due process hearing.

The only things that nontenured teachers can't be let go for is discrimination or in retaliation for free-speech activities.

What are free-speech activities? Simpson says the category is "fairly limited", covering only speech when teachers speak out as citizens on “matters of public concern” and when their speech doesn’t disrupt the school.

Ms. Cook, I'm sorry you lost your job. I agree with your supporters: I thought the photo was pretty tame.

But your termination should stand as a lesson to all young people who enter the field of education, or even to kids who have a vague notion of perhaps going down that noble road at some point in the future: namely, anything we post online can come back to haunt us.

Said posts can easily wind up in front of the wrong eyes, and the chances for that happening are higher when teachers encourage students to look them up on social media.

Even if we think that our own postings aren't objectionable, this story is proof that there will always be others out there who disagree - and sometimes, those people are our employers.

Image of dismissed stamp courtesy of Shutterstock.

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29 Responses to Facebook post of photo showing hand on breast gets school coach fired

  1. Jim Dandy · 353 days ago

    What happened to America?

    • Mark · 352 days ago

      The American Dream has become the American Hangover. The land of the free is now oppressed by Big Government and Big Business.

      • Anonymous · 352 days ago

        Oppressed by Big Government and Big Business...were you reading the same article. This is is school district in Idaho. The "American Hangover", if there is such a thing, is a result of ignorance and people who refuse to think for themselves. They would rather parrot ignorant cliche`.

        • Joe · 351 days ago

          If some feels this image offensive, he probably should seek medical attention and start thinking.

  2. Idaho Robert · 353 days ago

    By firing her the school administrators have in fact engaged in conduct which is offensive to the ordinary dignity, decency, and morality of myself and the other parents that protested the decision...

    • dpitz · 352 days ago

      Someone should check the social media pages of the school administrators and see if they have anything worth reporting !!

  3. Yohan Perera · 353 days ago

    Well, this reminds us of the importance of using technology responsibly. But dismissing her from employment is way too much. She is human too after all. Humans are prone to make mistakes. I believe she deserves a second chance.

    • Mark · 352 days ago

      A second chance??? SHE DID NOTHING WRONG!
      I'm horrified that such an innocent photo should cause so much grief. The sexism and small minded bigotry is appalling.

  4. NoSpin1600 · 353 days ago

    When you are in a position such as coach or educator unfortunately your social media activity is scrutinized more so than others. I do not believe this photo should have lead to dismissal but I do believe it was a lapse of judgement on Ms. Cook's part.

  5. Ben · 353 days ago

    Wow, what is this, attack of the 18th century modesty police? Not only is that a stupid and sad decision, but it is one that reeks of sexism.

  6. kwildman · 353 days ago

    another great article. As a facebook user and an IT director, I can say its a very fine line that is constantly moving. Best to keep your work and non-work completely separate.

  7. LoriTheMartian · 353 days ago

    She was fired because she was the girl, who is supposed to know better than the guy, who will supposedly do guy things and nobody will think twice about it. It's called a double standard and both men and women fall for it all the time. And since this is an IT forum, you may want to know that double standards are one of the reasons women are leaving IT in droves.

    • jet86 · 352 days ago

      No, she was fired because she posted it online. Since he didn't post the photo on his Facebook account, he wasn't fired. No double standard there.

      • Anonymous · 352 days ago

        If there was not a double standard, why did Tom Harrison receive a reprimand. If he didn't do anything, there would not be a need for a reprimand. Yes, there was a double standard.

  8. MD · 352 days ago

    I used to live in southern Idaho. Unless you have been there, you cannot imagine the religious monoculture that exists, especially in the SE part of the state where Pocatello is. Many businesses, including, to my surprise, pizza restaurants close on Sunday. It is quite a culture shock

  9. Ted · 352 days ago

    As an educator myself, I must say that she definitely displayed poor judgment. What a teacher posts online is accessible to just about any student these days. Should she have been fired? That's up to the district for which she works and they definitely called it. What I don't understand is the reprimand on her fiancé. He didn't post it and a person does not have control if someone posts a picture of you. Did he tell the district that he told her to post it or something?

    Bottom line is that public school teachers/coaches are held to higher standards, as should be, and she should have known this. And anything posted online, especially in social media, is not private.

  10. Jess · 352 days ago

    Facebook causes more trouble than it's worth.

  11. J. · 352 days ago

    What a shame that her teams will now miss out on the benefits of working with a confident female that is comfortable displaying her sexuality within what looks like a happy relationship. I would be delighted to have my girls coached by such a person.

    Where's the petition? I'll sign.

  12. Penny · 352 days ago

    Not only did they fire her but Mary even went as far as to tell Laraine Cook that her teaching certificate was going to be sent to the Idaho State Board of Education for revocation so not only was she fired they are out for her teaching license. All over a picture that most people in this century wouldn't offend. The story is in the idaho state journal nov 8th issue

  13. Anonymous · 352 days ago

    Looking at the comments and more importantly, at the number of thumbs up, it is nice to see that most people still defend dignity and freedom.

  14. M Parkes · 352 days ago

    i'm more concerned with the dissembodied head rearing up between the individuals!!! But on a serious note, while I personally see nothing even mildly indecent in this photo and think that there are obviously many americans who obviously have nothing better to do than cast moral judgement over others. It is a shame the lady involved did not realise that she has one or more extremely uptight individuals as friends on her facebok account and maybe what she is guilty of is poor judgement in who she choses as friends.

  15. You wont be able to fart in America soon before you get you arse hacked off to court, stupidity at its best.

  16. David B · 352 days ago

    Poor judgment all around. As an educator the teacher needs to be aware that posting a foolish picture on a public media site can not only lead to loss of authority in the classroom, as well as loss of credibility among her peers. Firing was not mandated, though a verbal reprimand was.

  17. Glenn · 352 days ago

    Since the superentendent feels that the opinions of the parents/voters are irrelevent, it is time for the parents/voters to replace the school board and for the board, in turn, to replace the superentendent.

    • Stevie · 352 days ago

      The law is always an ass, with nary an exception. Codification leads to ambiguity - and in a vacuum of common sense such as this example, it is doomed to fail.

      I think the parents should press forward with a vote of no confidence in either the judgement or competence of the schools' management, and have them launched bodily from the premises - no flash photography here, please.

      However the hard part will be getting the law clarified. As an outsider to the US I don't know how that works, but it seems clear here that the legislation criminalises ordinary people unintentionally, in the face of the lay community's expectationsm, and thus is ripe for repeal.

  18. LonerVamp · 352 days ago

    At some point in 50 years we're going to look back at actions today and wonder how we lived as uptight as we are about these things.

  19. Glen · 351 days ago

    The war on women continues.

  20. No your enemy · 348 days ago

    Well according to the code of ethics...
    Principle X. a professional educator ensures just and equitable
    treatment for all members of the profession in the
    exercise of academic freedom, professional rights and
    responsibilities while following generally recognized
    professional principles. unethical conduct includes
    but is not limited to:
    h. taking inappropriate pictures (digital,
    photographic or video) of colleagues.

    Two things wrong with this argument. First,there was no clear definition of inappropriate in the code of ethics. Second, since neither party actually took the photo (as they both appear in the photo) there was no violation of the code,the coach should get her job back.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.