It will be therapeutic, I hope, to take a breather from considering the steadily increasing seriousness of the various government scandals, as well as reviling the increasingly desperate spin being employed to try to deflect them, and to focus on something both far removed and of vital national interest. Of course, that means buckling down and refining the Naked Teacher Principle, which in its formal explication, is that a responsible high school teacher has a duty to take reasonable care that her students do not see her in the nude, and if she does not, and her students do see her in the nude, she has no standing to complain when the school deems her unable to maintain the proper and necessary credibility and dignity necessary for teaching.
Now comes the news that at Martin County High School, in Florida, a ninth-grade English teacher of otherwise good repute named Olivia Sprauer has been fired for being shown on the web modeling bathing suits, and offering her services to photographers for less clothed presentations. Should the Naked Teacher Principle or any of its variations apply?
We have opined that the Principle does and should apply when a teacher has naked pictures of herself on the internet, is shown painting pictures using his butt and genitals while wearing a paper bag over his head; posts a naked picture of himself for a Facebook friend and screws up the settings, thus sending it to everyone else; repeatedly streaks through parking lots; is currently or has been a porn star, and, in the most bizarre application, when the teacher stores images of her naked breast on a school-owned iPad and somehow accidentally sends them to her students’ electronic devices during class.
We have also discussed variations where the Principle should not apply, and where it would be unfair for the teacher to suffer any adverse action at all, such as the teacher who appeared in a community theater production of “The Full Monty.”
The scenario that is at least superficially closest to that of Sprauer is the case of Tiffany Webb, a 37 year-old guidance counselor in the New York City public schools who was fired, despite excelling at her job for 12 years, because photos she posed for as a 20-year-old lingerie model turned up on the internet. The verdict here was that Webb was blameless, and that the Naked Teacher Principle did not and should not apply, for the following reasons…
1. She was not naked, though the photos didn’t leave much to the imagination.
2. It was 17 years ago, and there should be some statute of limitations on the NTP, one that is less than 17 years.
3. Webb did not post the pictures, or pose for them when the internet was as ubiquitous and intrusive as it is today.
4. The photos were not posted under proper authorization from her or anyone else. Many have been photo-shopped.
5. Webb fully disclosed her lingerie model past to the Board of Education when she was hired.
6. Unlike most cases of the Naked Teacher Principle, the teacher’s judgment, motives and sense of responsibility are not in question.
None of these mitigating factors are present in the Sprauer case, except #1: she is not depicted completely nude in any photos that have surfaced yet, just wearing sexually alluring swimwear, and doing so very well, I must say. However, she just barely qualifies for “not nude”…among her photos available online are those of her wearing a see-through bathing suits, appearing with a bikini top and a nearly invisible bottom, and being naked from the waist up except for digitally added pasties. Otherwise,
- She is currently a model, moonlighting.
- She has posted the provocative photos herself, including on her Facebook page.
- She did not inform her employers that she was known on the internet as “Victoria Valentine James.”
Sprauer is being defended as an innocent who is being discriminated against because she happens to be extraordinarily attractive, or as one blog put it, “too sexy to teach.” I was initially persuaded by this line of reasoning, especially since the school’s policies relating to the issue are vague, referring to a “high moral standard.” Ultimately, however, I have to conclude that Olivia/Victoria moves the exception bar too far, and the Naked Teacher Principle should apply, for the following reasons:
- The fact that she can’t be called “naked” in any of her photos is a technicality at best.
- On the Model Mayhem site, she explicitly advertises her willingness, indeed, eagerness, to pose nude, emphasizes that she “prefers” tasteful shots but is “very open-minded.”
- That site tells students more than they need to know about their teacher and role model, like her measurements and cup size.
- It also tells us that Olivia/Victoria is available for “bodypaint,” “erotic,” and the always full-of-surprises category, “fetish” photography. This means that her school administrator bosses need to be on high alert that photos of their English teacher naked but shiny blue, licking feet, whipping a man in a rubber suit and dog-collar, or in bed with a goat may be just around the bend.
- “Victoria’s” Facebook page looks and reads like a soft-porn site.
Finally, and I think this is dispositive, it is clear that Sprauer knew her avocation would not be acceptable to her employers, withheld the information to deceive them, and was trying to maintain the deception just long enough to collect all her paychecks. She told the Huffington Post, “I knew I didn’t want to come back next year and I knew I wanted to go to grad school so I decided if I made it to the end of the year I would be happy.” She made a choice to walk this high wire, and knew the risks. She even seem to revel in the publicity that the ignominious end to her teaching career has brought her. This is not Miss Jean Brodie. Dry those tears.
So The Naked Teacher Principle strikes once more. There is no established bikini model exception, at least when it is really a potentially nude/see-through one-piece/ fetish /bikini model exception. And in the case of Olivia Sprauer. aka Victoria Valentine James, that is as it should be,