A referee will hear the case of a Buchtel high math teacher who, for the second time in her career, has come under fire after posting material to a social networking website.
An attorney for the Akron Education Association, the teachers union, filed a request for the referee Tuesday on behalf of Melissa Cairns. The move is allowed under state law.
The referee will hear details of the case against Cairns on a date to be determined, then make a recommendation to the Akron Board of Education regarding her future with Akron Public Schools.
The district placed Cairns on paid leave in October after allegations she had posted on Facebook a photo of her students with duct tape across their mouths.
Cairns, who was not available at her Kent residence Tuesday afternoon for comment, told Beacon Journal partner WEWS (Channel 5) that posting the photo was “stupid and not well thought out.”
This isn’t the first time, though, that Cairns has been disciplined after posting material to a social network.
Writing under her maiden name of Hospodor, Cairns wrote on her MySpace account six years ago. Her comments then, posted before she became a part-time math teacher at Kent Roosevelt High School, made references to marijuana, alcohol and sex.
She argued at the time that her actions did not warrant her removal from the classroom.
“This is not the end of my career,” Cairns told the Beacon Journal in 2007.
Cairns, however, was forced to take a position as a tutor for remainder of that school year. She was hired at Garfield High School in Akron in 2008 and has remained with the district.
The more recent incident involved a photo of about eight of her students with duct tape over their mouths and a caption that read: “Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!” Cairns said her students asked her to take the photo as a joke.
Akron Board of Education President Jason Haas said that regardless of how the duct tape got on the students it wasn’t the only egregious action.
“Privacy is just as big a concern here as what transpired with the duct tape,” he said.
Haas said that each student’s privacy was invaded when Cairns posted the photo to her Facebook page. The post, like the MySpace post before it, inadvertently was made public.
Cairns told Channel 5 she thought only her friends could view the post.
Haas said the district made a “very thorough investigation” into the incident before voting Jan. 14 to pursue Cairns’ termination. He said the board was unaware of any previous issues she might have had at Kent Roosevelt.
Cairns’ employment status with APS changed to unpaid leave, effective Jan. 15, according to information from the district.
The board was scheduled to meet Jan. 28 to consider her termination.
The request for a referee delays any board action. The district, in an agreement with the teachers union, is expected to select the referee in the next two weeks.
“Best case scenario … the matter could be settled in four to six weeks,” Haas said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.