Teachers are fighting to exclude their private lives - such as personal postings on Internet sites Bebo and Facebook - from falling foul of new serious misconduct rules.
The Teachers Council wants to change criteria by which officials decide whether to refer complaints against the country's 90,000 teachers to its disciplinary tribunal.
The tribunal can censure or deregister teachers for serious misbehaviour.
The council says the new clause - covering "any conduct that brings, or is likely to bring, discredit to the profession" - would plug gaps in current rules.
But teacher unions fear the "all encompassing" clause would put teachers' personal lives under unfair scrutiny, even when it had no bearing on their ability to be good teachers.
Teachers already have to prove they are of fit character.
They can now be referred to the tribunal for allegations of physical, sexual or psychological abuse of children; inappropriate pupil relationships; viewing pornography at school; using, making or supplying drugs; neglect or illtreatment of a child or animal in their care; or crimes punishable by at least three months' jail.
Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff said current misconduct criteria were "perfectly adequate". The new rule was too vague.
"What's creditable and discreditable these days? That sort of judgment is often based on your own social background."
The council should list the behaviours it wanted to prevent. Otherwise private life activities such as posting messages or photos on online social networking sites could fall foul.
"People might well appear in a social context and have a public viewing that somebody wishes to take exception to."
Educational Institute president Frances Nelson said the new criteria's objectives were unclear.
"If it's things related to people's private lives - what things?"
People working with children had to meet higher professional thresholds, she said.
Violence and inappropriate sexual activity was "definitely a no-no".
"But there's lots of other things that happen in people's lives that have no direct bearing on people's ability to be good teachers."
Council director Peter Lind said officials were now analysing submissions. The council would discuss the proposal this month.
The rule change was around "the professional life of a teacher".
"Certainly not the private life of a teacher unless it impacted on the profession itself."
- The Dominion Post
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