Children are often warned to be careful about what they're doing online, and after multiple controversies nationwide over remarks and photos posted on social networking sites, now so are their teachers.
While local districts don't have specific policies in place governing teachers' activities on sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, school officials say there can be pitfalls to educators using those sites.
Fort Frye Interim Superintendent Dora Jean Bumgarner said teachers should remember who they are when posting online.
"I think they have to be discreet and professional," she said.
While Bumgarner said she hasn't seen any problems involving teachers and social networking, those issues have made headlines around the country lately. Recent incidents include:
A Chicago Public Schools teacher is facing discipline and a lawsuit after allegedly posting a photograph of a 7-year-old girl wearing Jolly Ranchers in her hair on Facebook. The lawsuit claims the teacher made a joke about the photo and several of her friends mocked the girl in comments.
What the Ohio Education Association says about Facebook and other social networking sites:
Members should not post, do, say or write anything on a social network that they would not want to see on the front page of the local newspaper or would not say or do in front of students, parents or the board of education.
Members should not post material to their sites that may be considered inappropriate or unprofessional, including pictures and links.
Members should not join and should end affiliations with sites that are unprofessional or inappropriate.
Members should never post any information that would identify a student and members should refrain from posting critical comments about students and school officials.
Members should educate themselves about and take all appropriate precautions available on the social networking sites they are using. For example, pages should be marked private, and all requests to become friends should be approved by the member.
Source: Ohio Education Association.
A former Bronx teacher lost his job after investigators found he had friended six female students and written inappropriate comments on their pages, even trying to get one to go on a date with him.
A Georgia teacher claimed she was forced to resign after a parent complained about a Facebook photo showing her holding an alcoholic beverage and a post with profanity in it. She's suing to get her job back.
The Marietta Times has been notified in the past about alleged inappropriate activities on an area teacher's MySpace page. That page, which is no longer on the site, reportedly included mentions of alcohol and marijuana, racial slurs and inappropriate comments between the teachers and students or former students.
The Ohio Education Association, representing teachers in the state, advises its members not to add students as friends on Facebook.
"You just don't want to put yourself out there," said Dion Prunty, a Marietta Middle School teacher and president of the Marietta Education Association. "(Students) could say anything and without thinking, you could say something back. Or they could see what you said to someone else."
Prunty said she has a Facebook page but takes steps to ensure it doesn't cause her problems.
"I think that you have to be careful about what you say in public," she said. "You are in the public (eye)."
It doesn't seem like friending teachers is high on many local students' Facebook priority list either.
"I don't communicate with teachers outside of school," said Miranda Fraley, a junior at Waterford High School. "Your teacher should not know your business outside of class. It could change the way they feel about you in class."
Fellow Waterford junior Lacey Brooker agreed. However, she did note she communicates with a former elementary school teacher on Facebook, but not any current teachers.
Austin Lerch, a junior at Marietta High School, said whether he would be willing to friend a teacher on Facebook would depend on his relationship with that individual.
"I wouldn't care," he said. "I'm friends with my parents. It's not just teenagers that are on Facebook."
One parent of a recent high school graduate said she thinks teachers and students being friends on Facebook could be a good thing.
"It kind of gives them both insights into how they are outside the school," said Monica Farnsworth, 41, of Waterford.
Farnsworth said she understands the potential negatives but notes that trouble can arise with or without social networking.
"I just feel like the positive would outweigh the negative," she said.
In addition to not adding students as friends, a flier from the OEA advises teachers to understand and make use of privacy settings on social networking sites. It also warns against posting anything that could identify a student or making posts that are critical of students or school officials.
"Unfortunately, school employees do not have the same free speech rights as the general public, and the content and impact of some speech may subject members to discipline, including termination," it says.
Warren Local Superintendent Tom Gibbs said that based on the advice he's heard from professional organizations, it's best just not to have a Facebook page.
"There's a certain level of expectation from parents and community members with regard to your public persona," he said. "Depending on how you post your page, you're making your private life public.
"The best thing to do is just steer clear of that conflict," Gibbs said.
Nonetheless, Gibbs does have a Facebook account, but only for purposes of signing in on the rare occasion he needs to investigate a student or staff issue. He had to do that during a 2010 case in which a teacher resigned after being suspended over allegations of inappropriate conduct.
Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder said that was the only reason he ever had a social network account. That was when he was a principal in another district; he said he hasn't faced any such issues at Frontier.
Having a social network page is a teacher's right, "as long as they do it in a professional manner," Kidder said.
Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law recently sent a list of social networking recommendations to teachers, which advised not adding students as friends and not attacking colleagues.
"It's just being professionally prudent in all of your ways of communicating," said Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services with Wood County Schools.
The district did receive a complaint once after a parent saw a teacher's comment that she thought referred to her child. The matter was investigated but Woodward said the teacher was not found to have done anything wrong.
"There were no names mentioned. It was a generalized statement," she said.
Allegations of inappropriate activity online would be handled like any other claim a teacher violated the code of professional conduct, Woodward said. Depending on the severity and other factors, discipline could range from a written or oral reprimand to suspension or termination.
"We look at the message, not the delivery method," Woodward said.