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Stevens Sub Picks Facebook Over Job

Claremont — A Stevens High School substitute teacher has been terminated for refusing to comply with a school district policy that prohibits school employees from being Facebook friends with students.

The decision, which long time substitute Carol Thebarge made public on her Facebook page Thursday night, elicited hundreds of messages and “likes” in support of Thebarge. Another person created a separate Facebook group called “Let Mrs. T continue subbing without deleting her friends.”

“It has been a sad day for me,” Thebarge wrote in the post on her Facebook page, which has hundreds of photos and inspirational quotations. “Not the way I planned to end a career of 35 years, 32 schools K-12. The students have loved my site. I have loved to share pictures of the cats, my grandchildren’s achievements, and the wisdom I have gained throughout my journey. I have brought posters here that uplift one’s Spirit, and always considered my site and messages those of Character Building.”

Middleton McGoodwin, superintendent of SAU 6, said officials, including Stevens High Principal Frank Sprague, were acting in accordance with the “social networking” portion of school district policy, which prohibits school personnel from being “friends” with students on social media.

“The standard of ‘professional boundaries’ must always be employed by staff when using Internet or electronic device-driven communication with students,” the policy says. “Staff must only interact with students as professionals within their educational responsibilities and roles — not as ‘friends.’ Staff must be aware that the use of social networking sites, applications, and devices can quickly lead to issues with appropriate staff-student boundaries. ...”

McGoodwin said officials made the same request of Thebarge several years ago and believed she had come into compliance. It was addressed again this week after another staff member brought Thebarge’s Facebook profile to administrators’ attention.

“She basically chose not to (come into compliance),” McGoodwin said. “And just like someone whose traveling in a 30 mph zone and they’re going 75 (mph), nobody is forcing them to go 30, but there’s a consequence if you go 75.”

McGoodwin said the staff member came forward amidst a “heightened awareness or a heightened sensitivity to these issues” in the wake of the March 21 arrest of a Stevens High School math teacher. Christopher LeBlanc, 29, is facing sexual-assault charges after police said he had an “inappropriate relationship” with a 14-year-old student.

McGoodwin sought to fire LeBlanc after his court arraignment on March 24, but the school district ultimately realized it would be more expedient to allow the former math teacher to resign, which he did, rather than wait for a School Board vote to approve the firing.

“We have always been sensitive to safety issues, but the reality is whenever you have an unfortunate situation like the LeBlanc situation … it causes us all to be more sensitive,” he said. “Chances are it would have come up regardless. It wasn’t just because of LeBlanc.”

In her Facebook post, Thebarge said that her posts have never been deemed inappropriate and have “served both the students and myself well.” She said she has over 3,000 Facebook friends, although it was unclear how many of them were current students.

McGoodwin acknowledged that Thebarge is “loved in this community” and “many generations of students know her.”

“But that doesn’t give you immunity to ignore School Board policy, and that’s really what this is about,” he said. “I had hoped that she would reconsider.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.