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Court Rules Against Teacher in MySpace 'Drunken Pirate' Case

A student teacher who was denied a teaching degree just days before graduating has lost a court battle against her would-be alma mater. One of the contributing reasons for her dismissal was because of a photo she posted onto MySpace.com

Just days before her graduation in May 2006, Millersville University in Pennsylvania, accused student Stacy Snyder of promoting underage drinking, after they discovered a photo on her MySpace page titled "Drunken Pirate," in which Snyder can be seen wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup. (A photo can be seen on The Smoking Gun.)

At the time, Snyder was 25 and working as a student-teacher at Conestoga Valley High School. Snyder maintained that the photo was taken at a costume party off campus and after school hours. But when the university refused to issue her a teaching degree, Snyder sued siting violation of her First Amendment rights.

Today, a circuit court judge who heard the case decided in favor of the school.

Snyder's attorney Mark Voigt said the court essentially ruled that his client was an employee of the school because part of her program required the student-teaching assignment at a local school. However, he said, she was neither was paid for the work nor had signed a contract.

"Because she was some sort of de facto employee, she got fewer rights than would be afforded the average student," Voigt said. "If they treated her as a student, [the university] would have had to demonstrate that her online speech substantially disrupted classroom activities."

Millersville University President Francine McNairy said the school was very pleased with the verdict, but she declined to respond to Voigt's assertion.

"This was not about First Amendment rights, it was about performance, and she clearly did not do what was necessary in order to earn a degree in education," McNairy said.

According to the court's decision the school cited examples of her poor competency in its refusal to graduate Snyder.

I have long urged readers to exercise caution on social networking sites, which have established themselves as fertile breeding grounds for scams and malicious software attacks. Regardless of which side was in the right in this dispute, Snyder's story is yet another reminder about the privacy impact of social networking sites: Be judicious and exercise restraint before posting details about your personal life online, because those details will in all likelihood remain online indefinitely.

A copy of the judge's decision in this case is available here (PDF)

By Brian Krebs  |  December 3, 2008; 5:05 PM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker , Latest Warnings  
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Comments

My God, what an outrage, that an adult of legal drinking age should be fired and deprived of her degree simply for posting an innocuous photo on MySpace!

At least, it _would_ be an outrage, if the photo constituted the main case against her, as this article's single-minded focus insinuates. Read the judge's findings in the linked pdf, and you'll quickly see that posting the 'drunken pirate' photo was the least of Snyder's problems: The outcome would almost certainly have been the same had the snapshot never existed.

After reading the catalog of her unprofessional interactions with students and mentoring staff, I wonder how she lasted as long as she did. Her mistake was not an instance of incautious "posting details about your personal life online"--it was her insistence on airing out her disagreements with school supervisors in a public forum, while actively drawing her students into ringside seats and starring roles.

Posted by: youarestillidiots | December 3, 2008 8:01 PM | Report abuse

WOW! The photo doesn't even show the contents of what she was drinking. I am thoroughly confused by the original accusation against her. Is it because of the single word 'Drunken' in the caption?

Posted by: moike | December 3, 2008 9:23 PM | Report abuse

This is ridiculous. What kind of society have we become when we deny a degree because an adult was drinking.

However, she showed poor judgment by posting this on her MySpace page. In this day of nosy its everyones business, usually repercussions usually follow.

I just went to the schools Web site and found that a faculty member received a Fulbright to study fear. Very appropriate. She can start the current crop of undergraduates.

Posted by: MikeOLeary | December 4, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

The point of the article is not that she was wrongfully denied her degree. It's a cautionary tale about posting personal data online. Period. Even a dumb picture like that can be used to kill a career. Not to mention all the noise about the case, with her name posted all over the net. So, that's it. A warning. Not a defense of her merits. It even says "Regardless of which side was in the right". Maybe some people should try to read and listen and understand, instead of trying to find faults in articles. Singlemindedly.

Posted by: jorge_mt | December 4, 2008 7:23 PM | Report abuse

youarestillidiots is absolutely right. reading the judges decision changes the story 180 degrees. i think the judge should have made this woman and her lawyer apologize and pay the legal bills for the defendants.

Posted by: bigdoug | December 5, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Posting things on the web that can jeopardize your personal or professional life is just plain stupid.
Nonetheless...
I just read the judge's decision and have to agree that the picture was the lesser of her problems. There were issues concerning her conduct in the classroom that were at the root of her problems. Finally, though, it was a posting on her MySpace page where she made a thinly veiled snide comment about the teacher who was observing her at the High School that ultimately sank her. And this was after she was warned as part of her orientation about posting references to the school and students in MySpace.
Then she compounded her problems by sending an incoherent grammatically-challenged e-mail to the people involved (note: she's supposed to be an English teacher).
The judge spends some time making the distinction clear that, under the circumstances of the case at hand, her post was not protected under the First Amendment.
Anyway, saying she lost her job because of an indiscrete picture is something of a red herring.
Having said all that, I do hope the woman gets another opportunity to go into the teaching profession once she confronts and resolves her shortcomings.

Posted by: shambalad | December 8, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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