Hurtful Words

Many who are upset that Parkersburg South High School science teacher David Foggin has been suspended over comments posted on his Facebook page are using the First Amendment as part of their argument. These folks must realize, however, those rights come with responsibilities, and freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequences.

Foggin was suspended four days by Wood County School Superintendent Pat Law for a Facebook post that appeared to target and make fun of the PSHS Gay-Straight Alliance. The club is a teacher-sponsored group of students trying to promote acceptance at the school.

Referring to the group, Foggin wrote, “Club meeting at PSHS!! Rally around them and show ur (sic) support. We are also considering a drunks-t totaller(sic) club, drugged/sober club, smokeless tobacco vs smokes club, street racing, and deer poaching clubs. Please donate and support us. Thank u!!!(sic) I think I hear the drag already zinging.”

The Wood County Board of Education will have to decide whether the suspension is paid or unpaid, and Foggin certainly has his supporters. Those supporters are correct that Foggin has every right to express his beliefs. However, as an adult – and a teacher of young men and women – Facebook may not have been the best vehicle for this bit of political drama. Board of Education members also have every right to determine whether the method Foggin used to broadcast his beliefs was a violation of policy, and whether his behavior is detrimental to students.

Foggin’s supporters might want to ask themselves whether they are upset because they believe his First Amendment rights are being threatened, or whether they are upset because they agree with the sentiment of his Facebook post. Would they be just as angered by the board’s consideration of disciplinary action if the post had targeted – meant to be hurtful toward – a gathering of Young Conservatives or the athletic department, for example?

As an employee of the school system, his comments have to be considered in the larger context of how they affect the kids under Wood County Schools’ care. The words on Foggin’s Facebook page were hurtful. And while the board will decide what consequences Foggin will face, they will also be considering whether students, especially the ones who belong to the Gay-Straight Alliance, feel comfortable when they are sitting in a class run by a teacher who made fun of them in such a manner?