DENVER – Most parents expect teachers to be focused on educating students during school hours. But in Douglas County, at least one politically active teacher appears to be spending a significant amount of classroom time running a one-man social media campaign against the local Board of Education.
A number of parents with children enrolled in Brian White’s classes at ThunderRidge High School have raised concerns about the teacher, who they say is using the school’s network and computer resources to engage in political activism on Facebook and Twitter during class time – a potential violation of district policy.
Several parents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they have contacted the principal to complain about White’s advocacy.
The parents say they prefer to keep their names confidential for fear that if their names become public, their children may face retaliation.
An investigation by The Colorado Observer revealed that White tweeted more than a dozen times during school hours between January 23 and April 22, and posted over 40 times to Facebook during school hours between March 15 and April 25.
“Wake up DCSD parents,” White posted recently on Facebook. “Do you really think these special interests care about your kids?”
The post was made at 9:07am on a Friday morning. Classes at ThunderRidge High School begin at 7:40AM, and the last class ends at 2:50PM.
Last Friday, again during school hours at 8:39am, White again blasted the school board (which he repeatedly refers to online as “the regime”), posting “This board has cut funding and programs at our schools unnecessarily, which has resulted in fewer opportunities for our students, not more.”
Later – but still during school hours at 11:29am – White rebuked another Facebook user on the social media site, declaring “Teachers who want to join the teacher’s union VOLUNTARILY contribute dues. It really isn’t any of your business what teachers do with their own money.”
Many school districts have policies against employees using public resources and class time for political purposes, including the Douglas County School District (DCSD).
The DCSD Employee Computer and Internet Use policy defines “Prohibited Use” as “Any use as a forum for communicating by e-mail or any other medium with other school users or outside parties to solicit, proselytize, advocate, or communicate the views of an individual or non-school sponsored organization; to solicit membership in or support of any non-school sponsored organization; to raise funds for any non-school sponsored purpose, whether profit or non-for-profit; or to engage in political activities or campaigns.”
In a recent NPR piece discussing teachers’ use of Facebook and Twitter, Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey teachers union says, one thing most professionals agree on is that it is inappropriate “to post during work hours or using work materials such as a school computer, and certainly never post anything about your job online.”
“I think that’s where some of these teachers have found themselves in difficult situations.” Wollmer added.
Many DougCo parents see little educational value in White’s rants against the district or the superintendent, and they are concerned that his repeated posting on Facebook and Twitter detracts from valuable classroom time that should be spent teaching students.
Parents also worry that their kids may face retribution if they do not agree with the political views of their teacher.
“He’s supposed to be a role model, instead, he allows his students to push his buttons to get him all riled up in order to waste class time…it’s completely inappropriate,” said a district parent who filed a complaint with the high school principal but spoke on condition of anonymity.
The concern over teachers using taxpayer time and resources to engage in political advocacy is not unique to Douglas County.
Earlier this month, a high school athletic director in Illinois was called out by community members for trying to pressure students to get their parents to vote for a referendum, enlisting teenagers as “political foot soldiers.”
In Florida, an algebra instructor was fired for urging students to vote for President Obama. Officials finally removed the teacher earlier this month after a months-long investigation into complaints that the registered Democrat distributed partisan campaign materials and promoted partisan politics in her math classes.
This is not the first time that White has come under scrutiny for allegedly using district resources for political purposes, and it is unclear what action, if any, will be taken in response to the recent complaints.
Neither White nor Thunder Ridge Principal Carol Jennings responded to requests for comment by press time.