Bad Idea Jeans – Take Three

Posted on Categories Computer Law, Education & Law, Labor & Employment Law

I am not making this up – and from our state to boot.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting:

A Beaver Dam Middle School teacher is on administrative leave after school officials discovered a photo of her with a gun on Facebook.

In the photo, Betsy Ramsdale was training a rifle at the camera.

In an e-mail to WKOW-TV in Madison, Ramsdale said she removed the photo immediately and that she is not “interested in any controversy.”

Schools superintendent Donald Childs says a concerned staff member brought the photo to the district’s attention.

Childs says the use of the photo “appears to be poor judgment” and is unaware of any sinister intent.

So here’s the question to you, my mere blogsters, would  you fire this teacher or give her a second chance?  Is your reason a legal one, policy one, or moral (this story combines two of my great loves – employment law and education law).

Also, just another story about the increasing role Facebook is playing in the lives of people of all ages.

6 thoughts on “Bad Idea Jeans – Take Three”

  1. I’m going to go with option (c) – not discipline this teacher at all. Owning a gun is perfectly legal, and while there’s something to be said for not having precisely this sort of picture of oneself on Facebook, good-judgment-wise, it seems to me that it’s not too far a step from this to telling teachers that they shouldn’t enjoy a beer at a local tavern or while watching a 4th of July parade from their front porch. (The right to do which I take still to be a self-evident truth here in Wisconsin.)

    No doubt my reaction is shaped by having grown up in a small town. I saw my teachers smoke cigarettes and drink beer on occasion, and if I thought hard enough about it I could probably even conjure up a memory of one of them owning a gun (and maybe even going hunting). Of course, I saw lots of other adult “role models” doing the same things.

    If I’m the superintendent I suggest to her that the photo probably doesn’t look so good to some people and that she ought to reconsider. Anything more than that strikes me as too much.

  2. Chad: does the fact of Columbine and other school violence tragedies in any way shape your views or your approach to this issue? Are guns any different in a school environment as opposed to drugs or alcohol?

    Is your take based on policy or morality (doesn’t seem legal from what you say).

    Finally, does your response change if the teacher was an elementary school teacher?

  3. So there’s a line drawing problem here. (As Holmes once said, that’s pretty much true of every interesting legal question.) We could say that because of incidents like Columbine, teachers should never own or associate with guns, but that doesn’t strike me as plausible. So context matters. From what we know, this doesn’t seem like a photo that does anything to suggest use of the gun in a school context or in connection with any other illegality. (Maybe if I saw it I’d come to a different conclusion about all of this. Again, context.) If it did, this would be a different situation. But if it’s just that she’s a deer hunter, or a Civil War reenactor, or whatever – that is, if it’s the mere presence of a gun that’s suggested to be the problem – then I’m just not troubled by it to extent of thinking she should be disciplined. This is not to suggest that guns in a school setting aren’t different from drugs and alcohol, but rather that we don’t seem to have “a school setting” unless one is willing to conclude that anything a teacher does is somehow connected to a school setting, which seems to be a rationale that would justify too many restrictions on teachers.

    You’re right to suggest that I don’t have a strictly legal basis for this (apart from the fact that gun ownership is legal and relatively common), since I have no idea what the legal framework governing public school teacher employment relationships is. So it’s partly policy – if we countenance restricting what teachers can do in their private lives (and I recognize that I’m glossing over the question of whether the Facebook aspect of this turns it into something different) here, it seems to lead to too many places I don’t think we want to go. And it’s partly cultural – I’m not a gun owner, but I grew up knowing enough gun owners that the fact of gun ownership, without more, seems unremarkable to me.

    And no, it doesn’t change if it’s an elementary school teacher.

  4. Paul, I don’t see any obvious connection between this teacher’s photo, as described, and the Columbine massacre, unless the idea is that the mere existence of an image of someone who is associated with a school holding a gun somehow creates a reasonable threat of harm. And if that’s the idea, it strikes me as implausible.

  5. I don’t see it as creating any risk of a Columbine-like scenario nor do I believe, in and of itself, it suggests that she is not an appropriate person to teach middle school. The likelihood is that she wanted to show how tough or rebellious she is in an over the top way. So on moral and poilicy grounds, she ought not to be fired. As far as legally, my sense is that you need extraordinary reasons to fire a teacher, but I am not really qualified to comment on that. (Not that this normally deters me.)

    If the idea is that firing her would somehow interfere with her second amendment rights, I think that one crashes and burns. Quickly.

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