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.
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.
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.