Teacher & Student Relationships on Facebook

I often write about the goings on here in my little suburban hometown. You know cutesy little things, holiday parades, local theater and all that great stuff. But our town is not without it’s drama and Lifetime Movie worthy news worthy items. And boy, this week we had a doozy.

A 40-year-old high school teacher (not my old high school, but the high school on the other side of town, which may not matter to you people in the big city, but other small town folks will understand why that distinction needs to be made) was arrested when she arrived to work on 24 felony counts alleging that she sexually assaulted a 14-year-old male student from December 2010 to May 2011. She has since admitted to all charges.

Gossip and debates in out community ran rapid via our local small-town news sites and of course via Facebook. While most people assumed she was guilty (a 1.83 million dollar bail was a pretty string indicator that the police had pretty string evidence against her) there were quite a lot of people supporting her, claiming the charges were false (mainly former students) though the debate was laid to rest once she admitted guilt.

But it still got me thinking.

Based on the new articles I read it’s my understanding that the relationship started out on Facebook and via texting and playing words with friends. Though I guess she had been friends with many of her students on Facebook. This is now forcing our district to examine its rules on teacher/students social media friendships.

Many districts and states around the country have already taken serious measures in preventing these kinds of lines from being crossed. Like in Salt Lake City or in Missouri and many other districts across the nation.

Now, of course, I don’t think social media websites are the cause of this horrible situation, but I do believe that this teacher being friends with her students Facebook and playing online games certainly added a catalytic effect to the situation that ended up shattering the lives of two families and crushing the views of the students who looked up to this woman.

The lesson here, as parents anyway, is that even the most amazing and wonderful teachers can turn out to be a danger to our kids. Which is why we need to be involved in our kids online lives. We need to be aware and we need to ask questions when things don’t seem right. From early on we need to explain the dos and don’ts of being online–and a big fat DON’T is being Facebook friends with your teachers.

Even more importantly ALL school districts should be setting strict social media guidelines to help protect both kids AND teachers. After all, there must be plenty of innocent teachers out there who are friends with their students in a completely harmless way, yet leave themselves open up to false accusations and situations that can easily be avoided by simply not friending students.

But I guess even the strictest social media policies and rules aren’t going to stop the Mark Kay Letourneau’s of the world from taking advantage of young kids. And the strictest policy here in our district won’t give back that boyhood what was taken from him; it won’t give him or his parents the rest of his childhood back. It won’t give her own husband and children their mom back. And it won’t give all her disenfranchised and hurt students their favorite teacher back.

Despite the pain and sadness of this situation, lets learn from it! How do you now or plan to help your children make wise choices online? How do you stay involved in their social lives without being overbearing?