Administrative Law Judge Ellen Bass has ruled Jennifer O'Brien, a first-grade teacher at School 21 in Paterson, New Jersey, should lose her tenured job, because of a Facebook comment she made about her students. O'Brien has been on administrative leave since March, which is when she posted her status update saying "I'm not a teacher -- I'm a warden for future criminals!" She claimed she wrote it out of exasperation after several students disrupted her lessons, one pupil hit her, and another stole money from her.
Bass said O'Brien "demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity to the world in which her students live" and called her conduct "inexcusable." O'Brien's lawyer, Nancy Oxfeld, says the teacher will appeal the ruling, according to CBS News. The state education commissioner has 45 days to accept, reject, or modify the judge's decision regarding O'Brien.
Like many before her, O'Brien thought she was updating her Facebook status privately. She had 333 friends who could have seen it – some of them did, and a fraction of those forwarded it on to others. This resulted in a "significant" number of parents arriving at the school, demanding their children be pulled from her class.
"The reason why she was suspended was because the incident created serious problems at the school that impeded the functioning of the building," board president Theodore Best said in a statement at the time. "You can't simply fire someone for what they have on a Facebook page; but if that spills over and affects the classroom then you can take action."
O'Brien then refused to make any public statements, but her lawyer did speak on her behalf, saying that any comments that the teacher had made on Facebook were done on her own time and to her friends. "My feeling is that if you're concerned about children, you're concerned about what goes on in the classroom, not about policing your employee's private comments to others," Oxfeld said in a statement.