Social media blurs line between students, teachers

Last week, a Nashua South social studies teacher was arrested and charged with sending nude photos to students via a dating app. This week, a former South student teacher resigned from his job at John Stark Regional High School after admitting to using his students’ Facebook photos for self-gratification.

Meanwhile, a May 7 story in The Boston Globe detailed the stories of more than 200 students who were sexually abused by a staff members at 67 private schools in New England. These stories raised unsettling questions here that no one was ready to address: Are teachers too close to students? Where should the line be drawn?

District policy discourages personal electronic communication with students, and most teachers have self-prescribed rules governing such interactions. Pottery and AP Studio Art teacher Robin Peringer believes openness is the answer.

"The way I feel about it is that everything should be transparent," she said. "Everything we (the student and I) say between each other can be shared with everyone else."

AP Government teacher Katherine Johnson says the onus is on teachers to keep the relationship professional.

"It’s the teacher’s responsibility to make sure there is a line," she said. "It should be very clear."

AP Psychology teacher Michael McQuilkin agreed.

"Teachers should not be friends with students – nor should they be cold and abrasive. It’s a delicate balance that the best teachers seem able to create within the learning community."

District policy discourages personal electronic communication with students. South students say the vast majority of teachers are doing just fine.

"(Teachers) are completely invested in their students, and they’re willing to make personal sacrifices to help students succeed," said senior Aditi Srinivasan.

Senior Kuhu Wadhwa agreed.

"There are rotten eggs in almost every group of people. (The accused teacher) was just one of them. This is not, or should not be, reflective of South in any way."

Most students were surprised the boundaries were crossed.

"Personally, I didn’t think this would ever happen," said junior Alison Reynolds. "None of my teachers are suspicious."

Her classmate Sarah Kenney agreed.

"All the teachers I have are great. I never feel uncomfortable or anything."

Students say stricter regulations governing teacher-student relationships are not the answer.

"It’d be unfair to say we need stricter boundaries because there was one man who couldn’t figure out what was appropriate," said South senior Elizabeth Tansey.

One freshman suggested that teachers’ social media sites should be monitored, but freshman Hailey Lajoie disagreed, saying it would be an invasion of privacy.

According to a 2015 article by The Washington Post, more teachers than ever are having sexual relationships with students, and between 35 and 40 percent of them are using using social media to lure students. New Jersey already implemented a law that requires schools to limit social media interactions between students and teachers.

Despite the positive feedback students had for teachers here, recent events indicate that South must be more conscientious of the professional boundaries between teachers and students.

"There is a strict policy in our district; we have to be very careful," Perringer said. "Students have enough friends – they don’t need their teachers to be their friends."