Teacher Loses Job After Commenting About Students, Parents on Facebook

Teacher asked to resign after calling students "germ bags" on Facebook.

August 19, 2010, 11:28 AM

Aug. 19, 2010 — -- Facebook users take note: If you want to keep your job, you're better off doing your job-related griping offline.

Massachusetts high school teacher June Talvitie-Siple learned the hard way that a Facebook wall is probably not the best place to spout off about the students and parents in her community.

Talvitie-Siple, a supervisor of the high school math and science program in Cohasset, Mass., was forced to resign this week after parents spotted Facebook comments she wrote describing students as "germ bags" and parents as "snobby" and "arrogant."

Two parents in the community alerted the school superintendent after noticing the posts on her Facebook wall, Talvitie-Siple said. The superintendent, who was on vacation overseas, sent an e-mailing asking her to resign.

"She did what was probably the most appropriate thing to do," Talvitie-Siple told ABCNews.com. "I embarrassed her, I embarrassed the school district and, you know, if I were her, I probably would have done the same thing. It was not a surprise."

The 54-year-old teacher said she thought her posts would only be visible to her friends and didn't realize that her Facebook settings made the comments visible to others on the Internet.

In one of the posts, she said, she joked to her friends that students were "germ bags" because she was so tired of catching illnesses from school kids. She said had been sick for six months, and every time she started to recover she would get another bug from a student.

"I was on my third round of antibiotics and I just basically said, 'Oh my goodness, I remember now why I got out of teaching,'"she said. "It actually is a fact that at one point I was so sick that I decided that I don't have a strong constitution for upper respiratory infections, so I went into another aspect of education to get away from that."

"When I took this job, I knew I was risking the possibility that I would be exposed to kids again in a concentrated form and that I might get sick. And, sure enough, I ended the year with pneumonia."

The comment about the parents stemmed from "political activity" between the teachers' union, the administrators, the school committee and parents, she said.

"It's caused a very stressful year for every administrator, not just me. And it's made it a very caustic place to work," Talvitie-Siple said. "[It's] a product of a lot of frustration and angst about whether I should leave or not."

After writing on Facebook "I'm so not looking forward to another year at Cohasset Schools," she added that the community was "arrogant" and "snobby."

"I made a stupid mistake, it may have cost me my career," she said.

Talvitie-Siple said she's adjusted her Facebook settings and hopes her experience can be a lesson for others.

"I take full responsibility for my stupidity and I hope it serves as an example to kids that they need to be very, very vigilant about their privacy," she said.

If nothing else, Talvitie-Siple can take heart in the fact that she's not the first to get fired for a Facebook faux pas.

Earlier this year, a sociology professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, said she was suspended after updating her Facebook status with complaints about work that alluded to violence.

Employers Want to Control Their Online Image

In January, Gloria Gadsden wrote: "Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete hitman? Yes, it's been that kind of day?" Then in February: "had a good day today. DIDN'T want to kill even one student. :-). Now Friday was a different story."

Gadsden said she posted the comments in jest, on a profile she thought could only be seen by friends and family. She says officials were notified of the posts by a student -- even though she says she had no students in her "friend" list.

She said she just venting after a bad day, but university officals were unhappy about the allusions to violence and even referenced a recent shooting spree at the Univerisyt Alabama-Huntsville.

Experts say that online venting sessions can harm a worker's career because employers not only want to control their online image but area also vulnerable to hurt pride.

"When you badmouth your boss and the boss is hearing, whether you're doing it online or at the coffee maker, the boss isn't going to be happy," says Jonathan Ezor, assistant professor of Law and Technology at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, N.Y. "The fact that it's online makes it more easily findable and have a broader potential impact."

The comments that provoke employers into action usually contain obscenities or exaggerations that could hurt relations with customers.

Last year, for example, Dan Leone, a stadium worker for the Philadelphia Eagles, was fired after he reacted with an online obscenity to news that one of the Eagles' star players was leaving to join the Denver Broncos.

"Dan is [deleted] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver. Dam Eagles R Retarted," was the comment that cost Leone his job.

Although he later apologized and tried to get his job back, his employer wouldn't budge.

''If you know your boss is online, or anyone close to your boss is online, don't be making comments that can be detrimental to your employment,'' Leone told The New York Times after the incident.

Virgin Workers Fired

In the U.K., Virgin Atlantic Airlines fired 13 cabin crew members after they made fun of passengers in their postings and quipped about defective engines.

The discount airline, owned by Sir Richard Branson, told The Guardian at the time that the postings were "totally inappropriate" and "brought the company into disrepute."

Social media mavens can even get in trouble before they've been hired. Remember the case of the Cisco fatty that went viral last year?

One Twitter user posted an update last year saying "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work."

A Cisco employee responded, "Who is the hiring manager? I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web."

Needless to say, the applicant did not end up working at Cisco.

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