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Teacher, 79, quits after refusing to unfriend pupils on Facebook

After another teacher at a New Hampshire school is arrested for the alleged sexual assault of a student, the school reinforces strict social media rules. Carol Thebarge refuses to comply.

Carol Thebarge. WMUR screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Carol Thebarge has been a substitute teacher in New Hampshire for 35 years.

However, Stevens High School decided to teach her a lesson. I think the lesson was "rules are rules." Some might decide that it was actually "schools are fools."

As WMUR-TV reports, Thebarge has taught at Stevens High for 11 years. However, two weeks ago another teacher, aged 29, was arrested for the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old student.

The school reinforced rules on its staff. They could no longer be Facebook friends with their students. The rule had been around for some time. However, Thebarge had begun to unfriend students then, as the Union Leader reports, changed her mind.

It's an understandable rule. However, Thebarge is 79 years old. Should it really apply to her too? The school decided it did. It gave her the choice of complying or, technically, resigning. The latter was the result.

As Middleton McGoodwin, the school's superintendent, told the Union Leader: "In essence, we told her if you cannot comply with school board policy, you cannot work for us. That means we're not going to call her anymore."

Some might think that feels like a firing.

"Where do we draw the line?" she told WMUR. "Do we have the right as teachers, when we respect our students and our students respect us, to have that relationship?"

She insisted that she had perfectly safe relationships with her students and saw no reason why she should give that up.

McGoodwin countered to WMUR: "She has generations of friends. But that doesn't give you allowance to ignore policy that's created for the purpose of ensuring safety."

Is McGoodwin truly defending safety? Or is he rather more of the mind that policy -- whatever policy that might be -- has to followed.

Schools can take on draconian airs at times. It's hard to forget the Florida high school that expelled a student for what she said was a science experiment with toilet cleaner and foil.

Thebarge's Facebook page has enjoyed countless messages of sympathy.

She wrote an open letter there to the superintendent and the administrators. She claimed that McGoodwin had been on her side at first.

Indeed, she said she waited for the verdict at the bottom of the school's steps and was told one word: "Compliance."

She directed more comments at McGoodwin: "You felt the need, (at my expense) to communicate to the public, that you would 'clean up' any further threats of non-safety to the student body."

Clearly, there are emotional and personal issues at play when a teacher has been known to the local community for so long.

For Thebarge, one of the most offensive things is to be lumped in with another teacher being accused of serious crimes.

Some might wonder, though, whether teachers ever truly need to be Facebook friends with their students. It's not as if it's the only method of communication.

Thebarge explains it like this on her Facebook page: "I always considered my Facebook account as an 'extended' type of classroom, for contained within were lessons on accepting all genders, races, and creeds."

She says she used Facebook to publicly post various life lessons for all to see.

She added: "I have brought songs here from youtube , posters with inspirational messages... I have rebuked strongly, those students who I found inappropriate, engaged in open discussions with them as they held heated debates and hurt each other.. and then called for a {{{{{{ Group hug}}}}}. And as we ended up laughing, we found ourselves healed."

At heart, a teacher is gone -- by all accounts, a popular teacher. Was it worth it over this?