“Innocuous” Photo of Breast Grope Causes Problems for PA Teacher

Rochester (PA) Area School District Teacher Amy Douglas

Rochester (PA) Area School District Teacher Amy Douglas

A goofy but reportedly “innocent” photo posted to Instagram has landed a Rochester (PA) Area School District teacher in hot water. At the District’s prom in May, high school chemistry teacher Amy Douglas posed for a photograph with two female students. According to the description published by a local Web site, BeaverCountian.com, the photo clearly depicts the two students groping their teacher:

The teacher and two young women are all wearing gowns, with the teacher standing in the center and a student on either side of her. The students are seen grabbing onto both of the teacher’s clothed breasts and each of them have their lips puckered; their teacher has a large grin on her face and is biting on her tongue.

The photo was provided to The Beaver Countian by an unnamed source, who insisted on anonymity. The Web site cropped the photo to protect the identity of the two students on either side of Douglas; both are described as seniors, but their exact ages are not known.

A report by local news channel WPXI, however, contradicts The Beaver Countian’s interpretation of the photo. A mother of one of the two girls in the photo told the television that she was present when the photo was taken and that the girls never actually touched Douglas.

“[The photo] was innocently done, but stupidly done,” the mother said. … “It’s completely innocent. The problem is social media making a big deal out of nothing.” The mother also told the television station that her daughter is deeply upset and doesn’t want Douglas to be punished.

She’s devastated. She wishes she could turn back and really understand what it means to put something out there.

Unfortunately, the publicity surrounding the photo has forced the District to conduct an investigation. In a statement, Superintendent Jane Bovalino said that “The district is aware of the photograph. The behavior depicted does not represent the behavior that we expect from our staff. As this is a personnel issue, I cannot comment further other than to say it is under investigation.”

It would be interesting to hear how the incident unfolded. Certainly, at some point the teacher or the mother should have said that the pose was inappropriate, particularly since someone was actively taking photographs. Whether there was any time for reflection between the taking and the posting of the photograph is an unknown; if the child taking the photographs was using the Instagram app, then the posting of the photo would have been instantaneous. But if the regular camera app was used, then there would have been an opportunity to stop and reflect on whether that was a photo that should be posted to a global social media site, or kept at all.

While this incident is among the less serious ones I’ve covered lately, it underscores the fact that it is not necessarily easy to determine what is taking place in a photograph, notwithstanding the fact that we typically think of photos as depicting the “truth” of a scene. The problem is that the Internet in general and social media in particular do not handle ambiguity well. We need to constantly remind children, teachers, and parents that given the opportunity, far too many people will interpret ambiguous photos in the most unflattering manner possible.

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