The Legal Ramifications of Educators Using Social Media

Way back when social media was new, teachers were routinely warned to not use social media at all. The NEA and the OEA came out with horror stories about teachers who lost their jobs over unwise use of MySpace and Facebook, and both LCS administration and the LEA cautioned teachers that use of social media was inappropriate for teachers.

Now, the NEA has a Facebook page and a Twitter account and the organization gives hints for state and local organizations to use social media effectively. The tide has turned.

The truth about teachers and social media is much more complex than either of those facts indicate. Teachers have used social media in ways that are obviously, unarguably wrong–and there are court cases proving that. There are also many, many teachers who use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pintrest in ways that enhance their professional and personal lives.

Perhaps the most important point to remember if you use social media (or communication via technology in general) is this:

School administrators have customarily had the ability to regulate teacher conduct, even conduct that occurs outside
the classroom (Bathon & Brady, 2010). Likewise, the majority of state teaching licenses incorporate moral codes to
which teachers must adhere. Often teacher codes of conduct prohibit “behavior that would otherwise be unbecoming of a
teacher” and/or “engaging in conduct that would discredit the teaching profession.” Most state education codes permit
a teacher’s dismissal for “immorality,” or “moral turpitude,”even if the incident occurs in the teacher’s personal time
(from “Facebook Fired”)

In other words, what teachers do in their free time can lead to professional issues–and that includes what teachers do online. Because “moral turpitude” and conduct  unbecoming of a teacher are legally upheld as reasons to terminate contracts (and even lose teaching certificates), posting anything online that could be taken as “inappropriate” could lead to unpleasant consequences. However, the court cases are divided on how that’s defined. There’s no one simple guideline that fits all locations, all contexts. In fact, even something as simple as “don’t be online friends with students or parents” gets complicated if you live in the area where you teach or your own children attend the district you teach in. Considering how many sports teams, churches, and social groups use Facebook to communicate, for some people it’s not realistic to completely separate personal and professional life.

Also, the State of Ohio Code of Professional Conduct for Educators says the following:

Conduct unbecoming includes, but is not limited to, the following actions: a)Willfully or knowingly violating any student confidentiality required by federal or state laws, including publishing, providing access to, or altering confidential student information on district or public Web sites such as grades, personal information, photographs, disciplinary actions, or individual educational plans (IEPs) without parental consent or consent of students 18 years of age and older. b) Using confidential student, family, or school-related information in a non-professional way (e.g., gossip, malicious talk or disparagement).

In other words, if you want to post pictures of your students–even if the pictures are of fun events or in a positive context like a student getting an award–have the parents sign a note giving you permission to post it. Even though the district has the parents sign something similar as part of registration, for your protection, you should have parents’ permission. Furthermore, unless the parent specifically approves it, you definitely should not include the student’s name.

Being morally upright online isn’t the only issue to consider. Here are three other concerns that could impact teachers who use social media:

  1. Saying anything that is even potentially critical of your school, administration, or students—even by implication–can lead to losing your job. Beware of venting or frustrated comments as well as mentioning “funny” things that happened in class. Your idea of “funny” could be someone else’s idea of bullying.
  2. Setting up an account using a fake name and not identifying yourself as a teacher does not protect you. There’s a court case where an artist lost his teaching job because of art videos that were deemed inappropriate even though he was not acting in his capacity as a teacher and was not using his real name.
  3. Going on social media during school hours is a bad idea. It can be viewed as a violation of board policy, which could lead to disciplinary measures.

Social media is embedded in modern society, and we’re long past the stage where teachers should be warned to stay away from using it. In fact, teachers need to be in the forefront of people who use technology well and wisely–future generations depend on it!

Bonus: Here are good tips for using Facebook privacy settings wisely. It’s from September 2019, so it’s current as of when I’m posting this article:


How Can Technology Make You & Your Students More Effective or Efficient?

That is the question we ask when we are determining what tech-based skills, apps, and devices to focus on. We know that your time is at a premium and that this year especially, a variety of professional development requirements are flooding your schedule.

The next issue is how will the technology be used? That’s where a teacher’s professional judgement–and the state standards, the district map, and a knowledge of your students–is crucial. LCS has adopted the SAMR model of tech integration.

This chart introduces the SAMR model. Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss it in more detail.


It’s not realistic or appropriate to think that most of our tech usage should be redefining; there are MANY times that substitution and augmentation are appropriate, and there are many times that technology is not an appropriate media for a lesson. The challenge is to find as many ways as possible to use technology effectively and efficiently at the Substitution and Augmentation levels, with at least some activities in the Modification and–ideally–in the Redefinition levels as possible.

Definitions and Resources for Digital Citizens


Copyright is a legal protection insuring that the creators or owners of a creative product (writing, drawing, music, film, etc) retain the rights to using and profiting from their work. Infringing on copyright can lead to court cases, fines and possibly jail time.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is an organization that grants free licenses clarifying the creator’s ownship while allowing others to use the work. A Creative Commons license does not replace copyright, but rather lets the creator pre-determine how it can be shared and used. In most cases, a work that holds a Creative Commons license can be used without fear of infringing copyright as long as credit is given to the original source.

Fair Use (sometimes called Educational Use)

The fair use doctrine allows limited use in specific situations of copyrighted material. The standards for what constitutes fair use depend heavily on context, but often boil down to the question of whether the copyright holder was deprived of their rightful income for the use of their material.


Plagiarism is rarely if ever a legal violation, but it is ethical misconduct. Plagiarism is presenting ideas, words, phrases or even images as your own instead of crediting their creation to the person who originated the material. In many cases, plagiarism is solved by correctly attributing the source.

Public Domain

When the copyright expires on a piece of work, the work is in public domain. Once something is in public domain, anyone may use it in any way they wish without threat of legal reprisal. The laws determining when items enter public domain change, and Mickey Mouse may be one reason why (see attached article). Even works that are in public domain, like the Bible, can have specific versions, notes or guides that are copyrighted, so it’s generally safer to assume a work is copyrighted unless you can verify it is not.

Resources for further research:

Harvard’s page on Copyright and Fair Use

Electronic Frontier Foundation page on Intellectual Property

Schrock Guide to Copyright/Huge Chart

Art Law Journal article “How Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing Copyright Law

Creative Commons

Literature in Public Domain via Project Gutenburg


Kindling Readers: The Ohio Digital Library



Reading on a Kindle or Nook app does not have to be expensive. The Ohio Digital Library is an amazing free resource–and all you need to use it is a library card from one of the Ohio libraries that partner with it. If you don’t happen to have a nearby library that is a member (most Ohio libraries are members), you can get a free State Library of Ohio card that includes access to the Ohio Digital Library (Click here for State Library of Ohio info).

The Ohio Digital Library has an amazing array of books and magazines, including current bestsellers and children’s books. It also offers audiobooks and streaming video.

If you have a smartphone, a tablet or a computer, you can get the free Kindle app from Amazon or the Nook app from Barnes and Noble. Then browse at the Ohio Digital Library, click on a book that you want to read, and you’ll find a variety of options, including Borrow, Place a Hold (if there are none available to Borrow), Sample, Bookmark, or Share. Most books can be delivered directly to your Amazon account for downloading to your device. Just a couple of clicks and your book appears, ready to read!

There are other places online to borrow books for free that are in public domain like Project Gutenberg, and there are book subscription websites such as Scribd and Amazon Unlimited. The Lima Public Library has an amazing array of resources, too.

One of the best parts of living in a digital age is the easy access to information!