As detailed by the Kansas City Star, high school principal Louise Losos at Clayton High School in Missouri resigned at the end of last week after it was discovered that she created a fake Facebook profile under the name Suzy Harriston. Harriston’s profile had over 300 friends and mostly targeted Clayton High School students in addition to some parents. Rather than using a profile picture of a female student, Dr. Losos used a picture of a group of penguins to avoid identification.
As more Clayton High School students and parents accepted Suzy Harriston’s friend requests, this allowed Dr. Losos to view all comments being made by these people. The identity behind the account came to the school district’s attention after a 2011 graduate posted “Whoever is friends with Suzy Harriston on Facebook needs to drop them. It is the Clayton Principal,” to a school-related Facebook page on April 5.
Soon after the post was created, Suzy Harriston’s profile disappeared from Facebook on April 6 and the school district announced that Dr. Losos would be taking a leave of absence starting on April 9, the following Monday. Since that time, the school district has been investigating the fake profile and did confirm that no student named Suzy Harriston had attended Clayton High School over the last two years.
Prior to the recent resignation announcement, school district officials did state “The district and Dr. Losos had a fundamental dispute concerning the appropriate use of social media. She will remain on a leave of absence for personal reasons for the remainder of the 2011-2012 school year.” In a reaction in an interview with KSDK, Clayton High School senior Andrea Hermann stated “I feel like it’s a violation of our privacy that she was trying to like falsely friend us as someone else, it makes me uncomfortable.”
According to school district policy, teachers and administrators are allowed to communicate with students electronically for education purposes only. If communication concerns anything other than education, employees can be disciplined or face termination. While the school district has very little policy on how to specifically handle social media, it’s still surprising that Dr. Losos would be under the impression that a fake account didn’t violate the school’s policy on electronic communication. According to the LinkedIn page of Dr. Losos, she received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, master’s degree from Washington University and a doctorate at St. Louis University before becoming principal at Clayton High School.
Just last week, New York City’s education department took new steps to limit social media communication between teachers and students according to the New York Times. While teachers are forbidden to contact students on their personal accounts on services like Facebook or Twitter, they can communicate with students on designated, official school pages. For instance, a teacher could post answers to questions about homework assignments on the official Facebook page, but couldn’t respond to a private Facebook message or enter into a chat conversation with a student. Teachers have also been warned not to accept any friend requests from students and online activity will be monitored on public pages.