POCATELLO — The firing of Pocatello High School’s varsity girls’ basketball coach Loraine Cook has set off a firestorm of comments on Facebook — the online world that started the problem when she posted what Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 officials considered inappropriate.
Disciplinary action against Cook stemmed from a photo of herself and her boyfriend, Pocatello High’s varsity football coach Tom Harrison, that was posted on Cook’s Facebook site following a summer vacation. The photo reportedly shows Harrison touching Cook’s chest and was part of an album of posted vacation pictures.
On the Journal’s Facebook page alone, 73 comments were posted Friday after a front-page story revealed that Cook had lost her coaching position, despite pleas from basketball players’ parents, while coach Harrison received a reprimand.
Application of a “double-standard” by the school district was a common complaint from those posting on Facebook.
“This is a crock,” posted Laura Hook. “She shouldn’t have been fired, but if they were adamant in sacking the perpetrators, both should be fired.”
“She never should have been fired,” posted Serena Harker. “And why did she get fired and the man grabbing her ... got a slap on the wrist! It’s just not right!”
Franny Damron posted, “Would he have been fired if the pic was reversed? I think not.”
Jeffery Callen had the longest post on the fairness of the punishment.
“The message sent to female students: Behave. Behave for even the slightest indiscretion will have the most severe consequences,” he posted. “Your success, respect, relationships, who you are — irrelevant. You will be used to make a point and that point is, simply, you do not matter. What matters is that people in charge have an idea of who you should be. Behave. And remember, this does not apply to males.”
Other people posting reactions on Facebook were critical of the severity of the punishment for Cook.
“I feel like it’s her personal business and it didn’t have anything to do with school,” posted Katie Brahosky.
This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard of,” posted Allie Bennett. “The parents don’t want her gone and the district should listen to the parents in my opinion.”
“She is a role model, so it would have been appropriate to remind her of that — reprimand her — and ask that she take the photo down, with a note in her file,” posted Greg Gunter.
“She should of been asked to remove the picture and the whole situation should of been dropped,” posted Chris Werth. “Pocatello politics are a little outlandish.”
Still other Facebook comments focused on the use of social media and the dangers it poses to professionals.
“She is not the first person to be terminated from employment due to things posted on social media,” posted David Miller.
Shawn Denny even suggested the note School District 25 should have sent to Cook: “Coach, it has been brought to our attention that you have given your players access to your social media sites and that there is some content on those sites that might be offensive to the kids. Please either revoke the players access or the offending content.”
One poster, Heather Howarter, did defend the school district’s actions.
“Yes it was the right move,” Howarter said. “She’s a role model and should know better.
“As an adult in a teaching and coaching role, she should have used a great deal more discretion on what she posted to a social media site.”
Activity on social sites is something employees in the school district should monitor carefully, according to Pocatello Superintendent Mary Vagner. Vagner refused to comment on the Cook case, citing personnel privacy as the reason. But, the superintendent did recommend a visit to the website containing the Code of Ethics of the Idaho Teaching Profession.
Under that code’s section on “Commitment to the Profession,” there is a statement that teachers “shall not engage in conduct which is offensive to the ordinary dignity, decency, and morality of others.”
Vagner said all district employees are expected to follow the Idaho code of conduct and the district’s policies are updated annually to stay current with technology.
The assistant general counsel for the National Education Association Michael Simpson recently published an article warning teachers about the dangers of social media.
“Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss, Simpson wrote. “After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise. Thanks to Facebook and MySpace, what used to be private is now very public.”
Simpson’s article walks through several cases of teachers being punished for social media content.
“To date, there have been only three court cases involving teachers who claimed that their First Amendment rights were violated by being punished because of their postings on social networking sites,” Simpson wrote. “The teachers lost every case.”