For the first time, the School Ethics Commission (SEC) has determined that a board member's postings on Facebook violated the School Ethics Act. The SEC recommended a penalty of public censure, and it cautioned board members to be mindful of their ethical responsibilities when using social media.
Failure to Protect Personnel The matter arose from a complaint made by the board president against another board member in connection with statements the board member made on his Facebook page and in a newspaper article. The SEC determined that the board member violated the School Ethics Act when he posted the following statement on his Facebook page: "Now if we could only do something about our local terrorists that destroy dreams and burn futures." The posting was followed by a link to the district schools and a picture of the superintendent.
The SEC determined that this speech violated the provision under the Act that requires board members to "support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties." While recognizing the board member's right to express his opinion, it found that under these circumstances, the chosen method and manner for doing so was inappropriate. The SEC stated,
"Comparing the Superintendent to a terrorist, on a social media outlet which allowed for access by many people, was an intentionally confrontational act. In this connection, the Commission acknowledges the complainant’s observation that members of the community assume that Board members have insight that others do not have. Thus, when a sitting Board member makes such a judgmental proclamation, it is likely to be credited far more than a statement offered by an ordinary citizen. As such, the Commission finds that the statement may reasonably be considered as undermining, opposing, compromising or harming the Superintendent in the proper performance of her duties."
No Violation for Personal Opinion The SEC dismissed the other allegations. It failed to find that the board member made an inaccurate statement when he posted, also on Facebook, that "the Board President does not let students speak." The SEC determined that the board president admittedly prevented a student from speaking at a particular meeting. The SEC determined that the accused board member was offering his personal opinion.
Similarly, the SEC dismissed allegations that the board member violated the Act when he was quoted in a newspaper article as stating there has been no improvement in the graduation rate for years, and that "(t)he difference between some of the school board members and school administrators and me is that they believe that poor, minority students can’t do any better than this." While recognizing that "this may be a loaded statement," the SEC believed that the board member was, again, offering his personal opinion. The speech was not inaccurate, nor did it rise to the level of failing to support and protect the administration.
The board member may appeal the finding of violation within 30 days of the Dec. 24 mailing date of the SEC decision.