Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Lesson for Teachers

Christine Rubino is still a teacher for the New York City Department of Education. The preceding sentence is couched in the adverbial because the Board of Education had attempted to terminate Rubino for a Facebook posting.

The incident transpired substantially as follows (there I go again with the adverbs):

In 2007, the NYC Board of Education, in partnership with Columbia University, opened up the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, & Engineering, an institution which, as its name implies, is a "selective, public, college preparatory school with a focus on science, math, and engineering." [It never ceases to amaze me that so many Columbia University alumni are always whining about the evils of elitism.].

On 22 June, 2010, a class of students from this select academy of higher learning, chaperoned by three teachers of supposedly commensurate qualification, went to Long Beach for an outing at the beach. Notwithstanding the signs advising that there were no lifeguards on duty, and notwithstanding more than one drowning incident at the same beach within the previous few weeks, the chaperones managed to allow the children to go into the water. 12-year-old Nicole Suriel did not come out of the water alive.

Of course, the news of the incident went viral amongst the New York City public school community and beyond. One of the individuals to whose attention the incident was swiftly brought was Christine Rubino, a tenured teacher at P.S. 203 in Brooklyn. Rubino's teaching day had been very frustrating. Rubino used her Facebook page to vent her frustrations:

"After today, I am thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders! I HATE THEIR GUTS! They are the devils (sic) spawn!"

Disciplinary proceedings were brought against Rubino, and, following her due process hearing by the Board of Education, Rubino received her notice of termination.

Rubino appealed to the courts. Justice Barbara Jaffe did not take the First Amendment bait; she found that, free expression concerns notwithstanding, while Rubino's conduct was unbecoming of a teacher, the penalty of removal was too extreme for a single incident on Rubino's otherwise clean record. [Disclosure: Before she became a judge, Barbara did me a little favor which was a big help for my career as an attorney.].

The Rubino case is an exemplar of how the judiciary keeps the administrative agencies from going overboard; precisely the checks and balances dynamic intended by the Founding Fathers to operate amongst the branches. But the case also is an exemplar of what how the new technologies blur the line between the personal and the professional, between the public and the private, and between the adult and the child.

It is perfectly understandable that a teacher might experience frustration, especially during the last week of classes before the summer vacation (I do remember what I was like when I was a fifth grader). Rubino, then, is a cautionary tale of what to do -- and to not do -- to keep oneself in the clear when using the social media of the internet.

[To all of you who e-mailed, snail-mailed, called or visited us on our recent bereavement, I give my heartfelt gratitude on behalf of myself and my family. For the most part, we are continuing our normal activities, projects and pursuits -- which is certainly what Dad would want us to do.].

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