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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Free Speech and Blogging By Teacher Natalie Munroe In Pennsylvania Gets Media Attention

The issue of being disciplined for writing something on facebook, twitter or other social media is not yet codified in the law. This means that arbitrators and judges deciding whether or not to terminate a teacher for what he/she writes is somewhat problematic.

Blogging teacher has no apologies

February 23, 2011
By Elizabeth Fiedler
English teacher Natalie Munroe has been on the hot seat over her personal blog, which some consider offensive and mean-spirited. (Elizabeth Fiedler for NewsWorks)Add caption

English teacher Natalie Munroe has been on the hot seat over her personal blog, which some consider offensive and mean-spirited. (Elizabeth Fiedler for NewsWorks)

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A suburban Philadelphia School District is still trying to decide what to do with a high school teacher who has been called "mean" and "unprofessional," as well as an "education icon" and a "hero."

Her profanity-laced blog criticized her students as lazy whiners, and has ignited a national debate.

Central Bucks East English teacher Natalie Munroe went to school two weeks ago, thinking it was a regular day at work.

"One of my colleagues came up to me--when I was there about 15 minutes--and said, my class is all abuzz," Munroe was told. "They've found your blog and the students are talking about how there's a lot of cursing in it and you're talking about them. And this could be really bad."

Munroe said she was called down to the principal's office and confronted about her blog posts. The 30-year-old defended the blog, and said it was a way to keep her friends in the loop about her life.

"I thought it was just a way for me to keep up with my friends and then on occasion, if you have a bad day or a frustrating day at work--like most people do say, 'Can you believe this happened to me today? Can you believe the kind of client that I dealt with today?' Or this type of student and you know that's what it was. I never wrote any names of the students, wrote any names of my District, or my school, or anything like that," she said.

Munroe identified herself as Natalie M. and did upload a picture. She said she didn't think anyone would figure out the blog's author--or that anyone would even try to. She said much of the blog had nothing to do with work. Still, she's received a lot of reaction.

"The people in the ground zero area are very angry and hurt and are not considering what it was and the context in which it was written and things like that," Munroe said. "The people on the more national level, particularly teachers, I seem to have struck a chord in some way where there's a lot of support saying, This is what we deal with on a day-to-day basis and it does need to be said."

Not everyone thinks it should be said.

Central Bucks School District Superintendent Robert Laws declined an interview, but in this video from Tuesday night's school board meeting posted on the Bucks County Courier Times website, Laws criticized Monroe's conduct.

"What is most egregious coming from a teacher whose responsibility it is to conduct herself in a professional manner, is Miss Munroe's description of her students as lazy ass, sneaky complaining jerk-off, utterly loathsome and always I hate your kid, dishonest s---wad, rude, belligerent, argumentative f-, and better to have a pet," said Laws.

In the video, Laws specifically objects to another phrase he says Munroe used on her blog to attack special-needs students,

"When she blogged, 'I don't care if you lick windows, take the special bus, or occasionally pee on yourself--you hang in there sunshine, you're special,'" Laws recounted.

Munroe's attorney, Steven Rovner, says Munroe did not write those words in the body of her blog -- but they were on there as part of a clipart image that she chose to include.

So what happens now? Munroe is pregnant and about to begin maternity leave. While she's gone, a decision is expected to be made about her employment at the school.

Laws made his feelings clear at the Board meeting.

"By placing her malicious complaints, personal frustrations, and negative feelings about members of the school community on the internet--to be assessed by anyone--Ms. Munroe has lost the confidence, trust, and respect of her students, their parents, and her colleagues," said Laws.

Munroe said she wants children to know the value of hard work and to suffer the consequences of failing a test or getting detention if they don't behave.

"I would want my child to be able to suffer those consequences, to learn from them, because that's how we learn," she said. "Because if we don't make mistakes and, occasionally get in trouble for things, then how are we going to know not to do that in the future?"

This case could be far from over. Munroe's attorney believes the teacher has a First Amendment case if the District decides to fire her.

Safe Social Media for Educators (Pennsylvania State Education Department)