Kudos to the Midway Independent School District board of trustees for setting an example of how at least educators should act when it comes to social media and their young charges. Possibly it’s too much to hope for today, given dramatically shifting political and social norms and morals, but some parents and students would do well to take notice and similarly embrace restraint and civility in what they post online to friend and foe.
Midway ISD this month adopted a ridiculously sensible policy lately touted by the Texas Association of School Boards. It prohibits school district employees from using electronic communications to harass or abuse a student. One might think this plain common sense for educators and administrators in our public schools, yet a 2016 incident involving derogatory, mean-spirited social media comments leveled at then-Midway High senior Miriam McCormick proves otherwise. Ms. McCormick’s crime? Pressing school officials (and by working through the system) to change the Midway school mascot name for girls from Pantherettes to Lady Panthers or Panthers. Oh, the horror!
Some adults apparently took this as an outrageous affront justifying returning fire in deplorable ugliness, the sort with which many of us are by now all too familiar online: “Twit.” “Stupid moron.” “Mentally distraught or scholastically stunted.” “Brain-dead liberal.” “Silly, social justice warrior.” Worse, as Trib education writer Shelly Conlon reports, a Midway ISD faculty member actually “liked” some of these same malicious comments the now-19-year-old Midway graduate received via social media — and even contributed a put-down.
To our thinking, an educator egging on others as they employ rhetorical filth to vilify a student online is every bit the equivalent of a teacher on the playground cheering as some bullies taunt a lone and vulnerable student. And First Amendment concerns? As the nation’s highest court reminds us on many occasions, there are certain limits to all rights, particularly in our places of employment. And if that’s not enough, it’s useful to remember that teachers should be encouraging a lively but respectful discussion of ideas — not urging a tirade of insults, even if concerning some cherished school mascot.
Miriam McCormick ultimately lost her bid to change the name of the mascot but achieved a more significant victory by working with the Texas Association of School Boards (and again through accepted protocols) to the degree the TASB is now advising school boards statewide to adopt such policies. And even if Midway ISD trustees ultimately turned thumbs-down on changing the name of mascots, they correctly understand the far greater relevance of civil discourse in adopting a policy that bolsters an employee handbook rule about such pursuits. It’s a victory all the way around except for those whose only arguments against other arguments are demeaning insults and immature name-calling.