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Teacher who posted duct tape photo online will get a hearing

January 23, 2013|By Marisa Gerber

An outside arbitrator has been called in to help decide the fate of the Ohio middle school teacher who posted a picture of her students' mouths covered in duct tape on her Facebook wall.

The Akron Public School District planned to vote as early as next week on whether Melissa Cairns’ action – posting the picture with the caption, “Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!” – warranted termination.

Cairns told an Ohio news station that posting the photo was an imprudent joke that started after she gave one of her students a piece of tape to fix a binder. Several of the students then passed the tape around the classroom, used it to cover their mouths and encouraged Cairns to take the photo, she said.

An attorney for the local teachers union filed a request Tuesday arguing that Cairns’ actions did not warrant termination and asked for a hearing in front of a referee.

Considering the fluidity of social media policies, teachers and others should operate under the assumption that everything they post is public, said John Palfrey, an Internet and society expert who wrote a book called “Born Digital.”

“If it’s in bad taste on the front page of a newspaper, it’s in bad taste on social media,” he said, adding that he thought the message of caution was starting to sink in.

“I think teachers now are on notice,” Palfrey said. “That’s exactly what we tell kids: If we post something online, you have to know that this is going to be online forever. It’s true for grown-ups too.”

The district has approved her attorney's request that she be heard by a referee, district spokeswoman Sarah Hollander said, adding that the hearing was expected within seven weeks.

Cairns, whose paid leave began when the investigation did in mid-October, will not be paid as she awaits the hearing.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

@marisagerber

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