A 79-year-old substitute teacher in New Hampshire is leaving her longtime job after a dispute with school administrators over Facebook.
According to CNN affiliate WMUR, Carol Thebarge has been working as a substitute teacher in Claremont, New Hampshire, for the past 35 years, but when school administrators at Stevens High School told her she had to choose between her job and being “friends” with her students on Facebook, she chose her students.
“Do we have the right as teachers, when we respect our students and our students respect us, to have that relationship?” Thebarge asked in an interview with WMUR. “I feel like mine is very safe. I have never been inappropriate.”
Thebarge says nothing about her Facebook page is secret, but she does have her own personal policies when it comes to interacting with students online.
She says she’s only friends with those who have specifically been her students, and they must have photos displayed of themselves so that she can confirm the students are who they say they are online.
Thebarge told the New Hampshire Union Leader that in the past she has blocked and deleted students from her account on Facebook for “inappropriate conduct,” but renewed the online friendship with some after they apologized. The veteran teacher has been on Facebook for about five years now and says she began “unfriending” more students when she was told to do so a couple of years ago. But Thebarge says when the students didn’t take it so well and began asking “what they did wrong,” she stopped.
“I hid my list, but then I realized I had always taught them to ‘live their truth’ and I unblocked, and she [the administrator] left me alone,” Thebarge told the Union Leader.
One of Thebarge’s former students told WMUR that if she didn’t have “Ms. T” in her life, and as a friend on Facebook, she wouldn’t have graduated high school last year. “Facebook is a great way to communicate with people when you’re going through stuff at home,” the student said.
School administrators say although Thebarge has been in the community for a long time, safety comes first, and she must follow the rules like everyone else.
Thebarge told the Union Leader that the school gave her a final ultimatum after another teacher was fired after being charged for sexual assault involving a 14-year-old student.
Thebarge says she shouldn’t be punished for someone else’s wrongdoing, and she’d rather give up teaching than her personal relationships with her students. “I’m like a grandmother to these students,” Thebarge told WMUR. “That’s my role. I’m like a grandmother.”
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