Wednesday, November 12, 2014

High school teacher near Dallas suspended (and probably fired) for "racist" tweets on personal account; is this a matter of "conflict of interest"? Was she just using hyperbole?


A high school English teacher, Vinita Hegwood, at Duncanville High School in the Duncanville Independent School District of Texas (directly south of Dallas) has been place on unpaid leave and will presumably be fired as a result of several “racist” tweets she posted from her personal account recently. The news story on CNN is here. The tweets related to the controversy in Ferguson, MO, where a grand jury meets now to determine whether to indict a police officer.  From playing YouTube comments about the tweets, it sounds as though to me that the tweets were a form of extreme hyperbole and may not have been meant to be taken literally – from a 140 character limit.  
       
The teacher reportedly had implied that she thought it was “safer” to talk on Twitter than Facebook!
  
The school district will say that the abrasive content of the tweets, and the public attention they will attract from students, will interfere with her ability to do her job. The teacher reportedly was in her second year of permanent teaching.
     
I have previously explained on this blog how I got into trouble when I was substitute teaching back in 2005 for a fictive screenplay treatment that I had posted on my own personal website.  The details are on this blog in a posting July 27, 2007, and that post links (at the bottom) to an even more detailed account of the computer forensics afterword, where I analyze the accesses to my server and propose a detailed theory as to what must have happened “behind the scenes”.  This incident had centered around West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, VA (not far from Alexandria), and concerned a history and fact pattern from June to December, 2005. My content issue was much more ambiguous, and concerned whether my fiction story could be viewed as self-defamation.  (And I wasn’t limited to 140 characters.) 
  
  
My situation was quite different from hers in that I was “just a sub” and not “even” a long term substitute, so I did not have the authority to affect students’ grades.  
  
I had written, in the past, that people who have direct repots in the workplace, (authority to control performance appraisals or compensation) or who have the authority to give grades in a school setting (as permanent teachers normally do) should not “self-publish” their own political or social views online without the supervision of a third party “gatekeeper”.  I had attracted some attention to this view with a “whitepaper” back in 2000, where I argued that embedded opinions about personal characteristics of people (anything – race, age, religion, appearance, gender, fitness, smarts, sexuality) could, if found by students or subordinate employees through search engines, could suggest prejudice in the classroom or workplace with possible legal consequences.  I had expressed this view well before social media as we know them today had become accepted.  At the time of my own mishap in 2005, Myspace was popular but Facebook had barely been invented.  I had not used Myspace or even blogs, however; all of my material was on a flat site.  I continue to develop this material on my Wordpress blogs.
  
I had viewed this whole problem as a “conflict of interest” matter.  I have sometimes thought that one way to manage the issue is to require people in the position to judge others to whitelist all their own materials (publish only in “private mode” to approved friends or followers lists – effectively limiting self-publishing to listserver-like or forum-like use – but this probably wouldn’t be very reliable, if incidents like the one in Texas are to be avoided.
  
Public school teachers, as public employees, have a presumed first-amendment right to free speech, even self-published, but it can be heavily limited by the possibility that it can disrupt a school environment.  A film relevant to this matter is “Blackbird” (by Jason Buxton), reviewed on the Movies blog Nov. 2, 2014; a book that is relevant is Dov Seidman’s “How”, reviewed on my Books blog Nov. 10, 2014. 

It's perhaps just coincidental, that I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988 and know this geographical area very well, and have often visited.  





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