What is the appropriate level of discipline?

Posting pictures on Facebook is always hazardous, but can the response go too far?

In November, a Kansas student taking part in a lab for her nursing school posed for a photo with a human placenta. That photo, like so many do, wound up on Facebook. But this photo got the soon-to-be graduate kicked out of school.

“Your demeanor and lack of professional behavior surrounding this event was considered a disruption to the learning environment and did not exemplify the professional behavior that we expect in the nursing program,” Jeanne Walsh, director of nursing at the college, wrote in a letter to Doyle Byrnes and quoted in the article by the Kansas City Star.

It should be no surprise to anyone who posts anything on Facebook these days that bad things can come of it. Posting photos to the Internet offers the vast public curiosity a window on poor decisions and creates a permanent record.

But that the web creates an enormously convenient mechanism to track those who do wrong by ensnaring them in their own ignorance is beyond the point. In this case, it appears that Johnson County Community College is grossly over-reacting.

Four students were kicked out of school for taking photos with the placenta, which did not leave the tray in which it was presented to the students. The photo was on the social networking site for a total of three hours. When a school official told the students that the photo was unacceptable, they took it down immediately.

Byrnes has since closed her Facebook account entirely.

She is now seeking an injunction against the college that would allow her to continue her studies before she is married and moves out of the state this summer.
The school, however, is calling it  “lesson hard learned.” Hard learned, indeed. But in this case, it sounds more like hard taught.

What the four students did was in poor taste. But the lab in which the photos were taken was supervised. They took the photo down as soon as they were told and have apologized profusely. This is hardly an incident worthy of the expulsion of four students, especially considering they complied with the college’s wishes following the posting. The college should be using this case as an example to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and not punishing students excessively for a little harmless fun.

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