A 79-year-old substitute teacher at Claremont, N.H.’s Stevens High School is out of a job this week, after she refused to unfriend about 250 students on Facebook in accordance with school policy.
Carol Thebarge, affectionately known as “Mrs. T” by her students, had been teaching for 35 years, nine of which were at Stevens.
She took to her Facebook page to both announce her decision to leave the school and write an open letter to administrators, saying her online connection with students and parents alike was an essential educational tool:
It has been a sad day for me. 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 grandchildrens' achievements, and the wisdom I have gained throughout my journey. I have brought posters here that uplift ones Spirit, and always considered my site and messages those of Character Building.
I have never once, written here, anything against a teacher, the administration, or a student. If this was so, by all means, I should not be allowed the privilege of having students on my site.
I will continue to stay in touch with all of them here. No man or institution will dictate my relationships here, or otherwise that are within the range of my own consciousness. This is not rebellion.
One student told WMUR-TV that she would not have graduated last year without Thebarge’s support on social media:
"Facebook is a great way to communicate with people when you are going through things at home. There are tons of kids in Claremont that are going through stuff that need someone like Ms. (Thebarge) to talk to," [student Taylor] Anderson said.
Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin told the station that Thebarge was an excellent substitute teacher, but had no choice but to terminate her when she refused to follow school policies on social media use.
The incident comes only weeks after a full-time teacher at the school was arrested and charged with having sex with a 14-year-old student in his classroom—a development McGoodwin said forced the school to “heighten its awareness” about student-teacher interactions.
WBZ News reports that some were picketing outside of the school Monday:
"She wasn't harming anybody," said student Kayla Jennison. "She was a great person and always helps us." Elizieh Sheppard, another Stevens High School student holding a protest sign outside school Monday, said, "She was like a second mom to all of us." But not everyone is siding with the teacher. One person posted on Facebook, "Rules are rules and while her intentions MIGHT be good, I am sure parents don't want male teachers friending their 14/15 year old daughters on facebook!"