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)
December 3, 2008; 5:05 PM ET
Categories: From the Bunker , Latest Warnings
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