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Teacher Duct Tapes Students' Mouths Shut, Posts Photo on Facebook, May Be Fired

January 24, 2013

Melissa Cairns, an Akron, Ohio middle school teacher is fighting to keep her job after posting a Facebook photo showing her students with duct tape across their mouths.

The caption: "Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!"

The school board is considering whether to terminate her.

Cairns has been on unpaid administrative leave after an Akron public schools worker noticed the FB photo of a group of students with duct tape on their mouths.

It sets up an interesting debate. Jason Haas, president of the Akron Board of Education, said the case raises questions about students' privacy and social media:

"This is the start of my sixth year on the board. In that time, we haven't had a case for potential disciplinary action for posting a picture to social media websites."

"Has she violated the students' privacy? Everyone seems to be focused on the duct tape, but that's what we're most concerned about, the privacy issue."

Haas said that "students are protected under federal law and have certain protections." He said, "It would look like that potentially violates those protections."

Sarah Hollander, communications officer for Akron Public Schools, said:

"There were about 15 or 16 middle school students in the class."

"Eight or nine students [in Cairns' class] put the tape on their mouths. Cairns took a photo and posted it on her personal Facebook page as a joke."

"The photo wasn't dated, but was likely taken in late September or early October 2012. Principal Sonya Gordon asked Cairns to take the photo down."

"She also alerted parents of students in the class."

Cairns said she originally gave a student tape to fix her binder. When the teacher handed her a strip of tape, she placed the piece of tape over her mouth and laughed.

When the other students saw the girl laughing, they joined in.

Next, students asked Cairns to snap a photo.

"Do I think this one mistake should cost me the last 10 years of all the good I've done? Absolutely not," said Cairns. "When your emotions are involved, you learn things."

On January 22, Cairns requested a hearing take place to determine whether she can keep her job. She is entitled to present her case with an arbitrator present.

Haas said he believes the hearing will likely be scheduled in late February.

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