Teachers' Virtual Lives Conflict With Classroom

Teacher-to-be says she was denied credential because of online photos.

ByABC News
May 5, 2008, 4:48 PM

May 6, 2008— -- Stacy Snyder was weeks away from getting her teaching degree when she said her career was derailed by an activity common among many young teachers: posting personal photos on a MySpace page.

Snyder, then 27, claimed in a federal lawsuit scheduled to go to trial Tuesday that Millersville University refused to give her a teaching credential after school administrators learned of a photo on her MySpace page labeled "drunken pirate." She said school officials accused her of promoting underage drinking after seeing the photo, which showed Snyder wearing a pirate hat and drinking out of a yellow cup.

"I don't think it's fair," Snyder's father said. "She could have been a great teacher."

Snyder's lawyer, Mark Voigt, said he and Snyder would not comment until after the trial.

Millersville University claimed it would have refused to give Snyder a teaching degree even without the Web page, alleging unsatisfactory performance and unprofessional behavior.

But for a generation that came of age comfortable with the freewheeling, tell-all online culture, Snyder's case presents a cautionary tale that raises questions about the standards to which teachers -- and other young people in positions of responsibility -- should be held.

There are countless teachers with online profiles, many of them available to anyone with a Facebook or MySpace account. Some of those pages are, at times, racy, filled with jokes, photos and behavior some parents and administrators might view as unprofessional.

A random review of these sites by ABC News turned up many examples. One first-grade teacher listed among her favorite activities "dancing like an a**hole." A Teach for America teacher in New York showed pictures of several friends drinking beer on the subway. A high school teacher in Los Angeles prominently displayed photos of her lying on the beach in a bikini.

Those pages, similar to those of thousands of 20-somethings who grew up with their lives displayed online for all to see, can carry consequences. Teachers in several states have been suspended or fired for their online profiles, leading some school districts to begin crafting policies to regulate the virtual lives of their employees.

"What seems like fun when you're in college can be a real issue for teachers," said Nora Carr, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, which is writing a policy for online behavior. "Especially for young teachers, the technology is second nature to them, but teachers are also considered role models."