By Ashleigh Costello
AKRON, Ohio – An Ohio middle school teacher may lose her job after posting a photo on Facebook showing her students with duct tape across their mouths.
That may sound terrible, until you know the facts. The students put the tape on their own mouths, then the teacher took a photo and posted it online as a joke.
There are bad teachers out there who really should be fired. There’s no evidence that this teacher is one of them.
Melissa Cairns, a math teacher at Buchtel Community Learning Center, has been placed on administrative leave after another school employee noticed the photo and alerted a supervisor. The caption of the photo read: “Finally a way to get them to be quiet!!!”
Akron Board of Education President Jason Haas told Good Morning America the case raises concerns about students’ privacy.
“This is the start of my sixth year on the board. In that time, we haven’t had a case come before us for potential disciplinary action for posting a picture to social media websites,” said Hass. “Has she violated the students’ privacy? That’s what we’re concerned about. Everyone seems to be focused on the duct tape.”
Cairns said she originally gave the tape to one of her students to fix her binder and the girl placed a piece of tape over her own mouth. Eight or nine students followed suit and Cairns took a photo and posted it on her personal Facebook page as a joke.
Sarah Hollander, communications officer for Akron Public Schools, told GMA that the photo was likely taken in late September or early October 2012. Holland said APS Principal Sonya Gordon asked Cairns to take the photo down and alerted parents of students in the class.
On Tuesday, Cairns requested a hearing to determine whether or not she can keep her job in the district. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.
“Do I think that this one mistake should cost me the last 10 years of all the good I’ve done? Absolutely not,” said Cairns. “When your emotions are involved, that’s when you learn things.”
Haas told reporters that “students are protected under federal law and have certain protections.” He said, “It would look like that [photo] potentially violates those protections.”
Haas said no final decisions have been made.
“It comes down to how the board feels after the administration presents their case. We’ve gone with the teacher’s side and there’s other cases where we’ve gone with the administration’s side,” Haas said. “Nothing is cut and dry.”
The 33-year-old teacher was put on paid administrative leave on Oct. 19, according to GMA. Last week Cairns received a letter from district officials informing her that she may be fired.
We commend school districts for holding teachers accountable, but this particular case seems excessive. There have been no reports of parental complaints of what seems to be a harmless classroom joke.
Cairns has been employed by Akron Public Schools since August 2007.