In the spring of 2006, Stacy Snyder was just a few weeks away from graduating from Millersville University in Pennsylvania with a degree from the university's School of Education. She was spending the semester student teaching English at Conestoga Valley High School (CVHS) and reportedly had gotten excellent evaluations for her classroom work.
In early May, however, Snyder was asked to take a temporary leave from her work at CVHS. A few days later, during a meeting with her supervisors from both CVHS and Millersville, Snyder was shown a photo that had been downloaded from her personal MySpace page.
The photo was a head shot of Snyder wearing a too-small pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup emblazoned with the Hershey "Mr. Goodbar" logo. The caption of the photo read "drunken pirate." (A copy of the photo can be found on "The Smoking Gun" Web site by searching for "drunken pirate").
Snyder was accused by Millersville of promoting underage drinking (despite the fact that she is in her mid-20s), and was told that she would not be allowed to graduate with an education degree. Instead, the college awarded her a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. Without her education degree, Snyder is unable to obtain a teacher's license.
'A New Digital Puritanism'
Jeff Chester, the founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said that the case highlights the dangers of blending our real and virtual lives.
"I think a new digital puritanism is arising," Chester said. "A case like this highlights the need to develop a whole new standard of ethics, since even a relatively innocent remark or situation online can backfire and ruin someone's entire career."
Chester said that he hadn't seen the "drunken pirate" photo, but was familiar with several similar situations. "Frankly," he said, "there needs to be a national or global debate about the fact that we are increasingly living lives that are intermixed between the real and the virtual."
Lawsuit Seeks Teaching License
Snyder filed a lawsuit against Millersville and various administrators over the denial of her education degree on April 25. In her 20-page complaint, Snyder alleges that the University violated her civil rights by depriving her of due process of law by failing to follow proper procedures and failing to give her an opportunity to answer the charges brought against her.
She also claims that the university deprived her of a property interest without due process, violated assorted state procedures, and committed a breach of contract.
She is asking the court to order Millersville to do everything necessary to allow her to get her license, and is seeking damages "in excess of $75,000."
An answer to the complaint is due from the university and the individual defendants at the end of May.