AURORA, Colo. — Though she probably violated no law, photos that allegedly show an Overland High School math teacher spread eagle and topless alarmed her bosses at one of Colorado’s most prominent school districts. So much so that on Tuesday, administrators called an emergency meeting.
“There are some posts on the Twitter page that are of concern,” Cherry Creek School District spokesperson Tustin Amole said. “Now we have to determine whether anything is violation of district policy.”
The 23-year-old teacher associated with the account, Carly McKinney, is now on paid leave.
In addition to the topless photos, McKinney’s alleged Twitter account, which has now been deleted, posted photos of her partying with alcohol and marijuana. She talked about her “double life” – teacher by day, party animal by night.
One tweet described a situation in which McKinney had marijuana on the Overland High School campus. That comment, in particular, caught her school district’s attention.
“Adults can smoke marijuana in Colorado,” Amole said. “But it is still against state and federal law to use or possess (marijuana) on school property.”
Several students came to the teacher’s defense Tuesday, including Shaun Gannaway and Parker Hinton. In their minds, the marijuana and privacy issues are paramount.
“My t-shirt says CrunkBear13 which is the name she was calling herself on Twitter,” said Gannaway, displaying a shirt that included the Twitter handle along with a marijuana leaf. “She’s a good teacher, a good coach of the volleyball students. She doesn’t deserve punishment for what she does in her off time.”
Hinton echoed those sentiments.
“It’s her personal life,” Hinton said. “As long as it doesn’t take place on campus – and she has denied that it has – we’re going to respect that.”
Other students, like Johan Alvarez and Stephen Smith, had opinions that fell on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“It’s a little too much information,” Smith said. “She doesn’t really need to share that.”
Alvarez was even more blunt.
“If any teacher posted that on Facebook or Twitter, they should be fired,” Alvarez said.
Somewhere in the midst of that spectrum were more tepid responses from students like Jake Kromenacker and Matthew Alexander.
“If you have a teacher that you know parties all the time, it’s kinda weird being in that classroom,” Kromenacker said.
“Ms. McKinney was smart,” Alexander added. “I never thought she would do this kind of stuff. She was a great teacher. She was nice to me, she would help me with my math problems, she would never talk about marijuana or whatever.”
The uproar is just another example of social media outpacing school policy.
When we asked officials at the state’s largest school district in Denver about their policy, they said, “We don’t have one yet.”
Other districts follow Jefferson County’s policy, which stresses the somewhat ambiguous idea of “personal responsibility.” Amole said the policy in Cherry Creek falls into that boat.
“If it’s not something you would hang on a classroom wall, we recommend that you don’t put it on your Facebook or Twitter page,” Amole said.
Experts say that’s the problem with social media policies: They’re difficult to write and often vague.
“It’s necessary to (have those policies) to protect your business and your school,” Metro State professor Travis Heath said. “But the problem is that those policies are still in the process of being written at many institutions. It’s not explicitly clear what you can do and what you can’t do.”
So did McKinney actually violate a clearly-defined statute in the Cherry Creek School District social media policy? At this point, Amole isn’t saying yes or no.
And while she did acknowledge that McKinney has First Amendment rights to post whatever she pleases on her social media accounts, Amole said the school district also has its reputation to consider.
“Even if (these Twitter posts) don’t turn out to be a violation of law or district policy, there is a certain degree of public embarrassment that we will have to consider,” Amole said.