Teachers and Facebook…they make for a lethal combination.

We won’t soon forget the tale of Viki Knox, the Union High School teacher who posted on her private Facebook page how annoyed she was that the school was sponsoring a Gay Pride week.

Result: tenure charges filed which in turn leads to her filing for early retirement.

Then there’s the situation in Paterson with Jennifer O’Brien who, on her personal Facebook page, said she felt like a warden for future criminals.

Result: tenure charges files…eventually terminated and upon appeal, her firing was upheld by an Appeals panel.

This situation may be different in that there didn’t seem to be any malice involved. Yet, as long as it involves a teacher, her students, and Facebook…one’s ability to use proper judgement will come into play.

An Akron middle school teacher could be fired after she posted a photograph on Facebook which showed duct tape covering the mouths of several of her students.
A caption under the picture read: "Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!"

The teacher, Melissa Cairns, told NewsChannel5 that the post, which she now regrets, was meant to be a joke and the students encouraged her take a picture of their covered mouths in the classroom.

According to Cairns, a student asked for tape to fix a binder. The teacher gave the girl a roll of duct tape, but rather than use it on her binder, the student cut a piece of tape, placed it over her mouth and laughed.

"The other kids in the class thought it was funny also, and they proceeded to pass the tape and scissors around the class. The students, the majority of the class, ended up putting a piece of duct tape across their mouth," Cairns explained.

According to a statement from Akron Public Schools, there were 15 or 16 middle school students in the class. Eight or nine students put the tape on their mouths.
Cairns said she thought her Facebook settings were private and that only her Facebook friends would see the picture.

"That was clearly my huge mistake. What I did was stupid and not well thought out," Cairns said.

APS district spokesperson, Sarah Hollander, said another employee noticed the photo on Facebook and alerted a supervisor.
Principal Sonya Gordon asked Cairns to take it down and notified parents and students in the class.
Cairns said she removed the picture from Facebook in October.

On Jan. 14, the Akron School Board voted to pursue termination. Cairns has until this Friday to appeal. Her attorney said he will file paperwork to begin the appeal process on Jan. 22.

The president of the school board, Jason Haas, said he was concerned about the way the duct tape was used in the classroom as well as privacy issues.

"Students are protected under federal law and they have certain protections... it looked like that potentially violates those protections," Haas said.
Cairns said the suggestion by some in the community that she harmed the students is "ludicrous."

"I would never in a million years do anything to harm students," Cairns said.
Ironically, Cairns spends much of her time outside of the classroom speaking out against domestic violence. She organizes a marathon in Kent called "On My Own Two Feet", which benefits local women's shelters.

She was placed on paid leave after the discovery of the Facebook photo, but Cairns said she has been unpaid for the past couple of weeks.

While she clearly understands the mistake she made, Cairns also believes the duct tape incident was a breakthrough moment as she struggled to connect with her new class.

"When your emotions are involved, that's when you learn things," said Cairns. "When you're able to laugh and connect with the teacher and trust the teacher, that's when your mind is really open to learn."

I don’t know if that defense would hold up, but I go back to the judgment call.

Despite having a private Facebook page, it was not wise to put the pictures of her students with duct tape across their mouths and the caption, "Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!"

However, firing her is extreme.

I think the suspension has probably served as a lesson that her decision to give into the playful moment she was having with her students needed not be shared with her Facebook “friends.”