Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Indiana special ed teacher's comments about students on Facebook upsets parents

From The Indy Channel:

BAINBRIDGE, Ind. -- A special education teacher's Facebook comments have incensed parents and prompted an investigation by the school district.

Amber Russell, a teacher at North Putnam Middle School, posted on Facebook, "I love dumb people. I call it job security," along with "5+1=Freedom from the Hell hole" and "I feel sorry for preachers and teachers. No matter hard they work, there's always an incoming batch of sinners and dumb people."

Although Russell's Facebook wall is private, parents who were Facebook friends with her copied the comments, 6News' Kara Kenney reported.

"I don't want the kids to think that about themselves, because it's not true. I think it's totally uncalled for," said Paula Shepherd, whose son is in Russell's class.

The parents demanded answers from school board members and administrators, who held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the matter.

"Obviously, she doesn't want to be there," said Tasha Leonard, whose son, who has ADHD, is in Russell's class. "As a parent, it makes me wonder if she feels comfortable enough to post that on Facebook having 425 friends, what's happening behind closed doors? How is she treating children?"

Superintendent Mary Lovejoy would not allow 6News to attend the meeting. Afterward, she called the Facebook comments unacceptable.

"This situation is going to be carefully investigated and aggressive action is going to be taken under the constraints of the law," Lovejoy said.

The district's employee handbook prohibits harassment or discrimination, including "written or graphic material that defames or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability."

School Board President Charlie Boller said he supports the investigation.

"It's appalling if this is truly what's going on with certain teachers within our corporation," he said. "Any time there's a negative comment about kids in general and if the kids see that, it'd be hard to go to school. You have to be in a good frame of mind and in a positive environment to get educated."

Parents 6News spoke with said the comments should cost Russell her job.

"I think they need to get to get rid of her, and if she really feels that way, she needs to find a new profession," Leonard said.

"I just don't think it's right," Shepherd said. "I don't think the kids should be discriminated like that."

Lovejoy would not say if Russell would be disciplined, but said teachers should be held to a higher standard.

"We are professional educators, and we need to be very cautious about what we say on Facebook," she said. "Of course, we all have freedom of speech, but we need to be very aware of how we represent ourselves to parents, students and the community."

Russell did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment Friday.

The Indiana State Teachers Association represents teachers in North Putnam, but a spokesperson for ISTA was unavailable Friday.