Ohio teacher may be fired for Facebook picture showing duct tape on students' mouths

AKRON, Ohio (WEWS) - An Akron, Ohio, middle school teacher could be fired after she posted a photograph on Facebook which showed duct tape covering the mouths of several of her students.

A caption under the picture read: "Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!"

The teacher, Melissa Cairns, told Scripps station NewsChannel5 that the post, which she now regrets, was meant to be a joke, and the students encouraged her take a picture of their covered mouths in the classroom.

"Do I feel that this one, stupid mistake should cost me the last 10 years of all the good I've done? Absolutely not," Cairns said.

The incident happened last October at Buchtel Community Learning Center, where Cairns teaches math to seventh and eighth graders.

According to Cairns, a student asked for tape to fix a binder. The teacher gave the girl a roll of duct tape, but rather than use it on her binder, the student cut a piece of tape, placed it over her mouth and laughed.

"The other kids in the class thought it was funny also, and they proceeded to pass the tape and scissors around the class. The students, the majority of the class, ended up putting a piece of duct tape across their mouth," Cairns explained.

According to a statement from Akron Public Schools, there were 15 or 16 middle school students in the class. Eight or nine students put the tape on their mouths.

Cairns said she thought her Facebook settings were private and that only her Facebook friends would see the picture.

"That was clearly my huge mistake. What I did was stupid and not well-thought-out," Cairns said.

APS district spokesperson, Sarah Hollander, said another employee noticed the photo on Facebook and alerted a supervisor.

Principal Sonya Gordon asked Cairns to take it down and notified parents and students in the class.

Cairns said she removed the picture from Facebook in October.

On Jan. 14, the Akron School Board voted to pursue termination. Cairns has until this Friday to appeal. Her attorney said he will file paperwork to begin the appeal process on Jan. 22.

The president of the school board, Jason Haas, said he was concerned about the way the duct tape was used in the classroom as well as privacy issues.

"Students are protected under federal law and they have certain protections... it looked like that potentially violates those protections," Haas said.

Cairns said the suggestion by some in the community that she harmed the students is "ludicrous."

"I would never in a million years do anything to harm students," Cairns said.

Ironically, Cairns spends much of her time outside of the classroom speaking out against domestic violence. She organizes a marathon called "On My Own Two Feet", which benefits local women's shelters.

Cairns was hired by the district as a math teach in 2007. She worked three years at Garfield High School and two years at Firestone High School before starting at Buchtel in August 2012.

In April 2012, she was placed on a plan of assistance at Firestone to help her with her teaching skills, according to the district statement.

She was placed on paid leave after the discovery of the Facebook photo, but Cairns said she has been unpaid for the past couple of weeks.

While she clearly understands the mistake she made, Cairns also believes the duct tape incident was a breakthrough moment as she struggled to connect with her new class.

"When your emotions are involved, that's when you learn things," she said. "When you're able to laugh and connect with the teacher and trust the teacher, that's when your mind is really open to learn."

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