Friday, March 31, 2006

Teachers: Prepare To Check Your First Amendment Rights at the Classroom Door

This is just great! For anyone happening to be reading who might not know, I earn most of my living teaching at the college / university level (both, in fact, since I have two jobs, one at a technical college and the other at a four-year university). My title was facetious, of course. My students, to the extent they are interested, will have an opportunity to learn about not just the problems raised by the Iraq War--perhaps from the point of view of Just War Theory going back at least as far as St. Thomas Aquinas--but also about Lockean property rights versus today's abuses of eminent domain, the problems with affirmative action, the problems with granting the equivalent of amnesty to 12 to 20 million illegal aliens who have practically said they intend to "take back" this continent, and the absurdities associated with so-called free trade and with globalism generally. Superiors who don't like this can, of course, refuse to renew my contract as well, and I, too, will get myself a good lawyer and fight back. For my own part, I am fed up both with being bullied myself and seeing others bullied by administrators with half our intelligence and students most of whom can't put a grammatical sentence together. I don't know if any of the above have seen this blog. So I'll just say: this is bull, and I am among the fed up! So bring it on! (This appears to be an update. Somehow I missed the beginning.)

Judge Rules Teachers Have No Free Speech Rights in Class

by Matthew Rothschild

March 28, 2006
The Progressive


Here's an update on Deb Mayer, the teacher who said her contract was not renewed because she answered a student's question about whether she would participate in a demonstration for peace.

Her case involves an incident that occurred on January 10, 2003, at Clear Creek Elementary School in Bloomington, Indiana.

The students were reading an article in Time for Kids about peace protests. She responded to the student’s question by saying she sometimes honks for peace and that it’s important to seek out peaceful solutions both on the playground and in society. Afterwards, the parents of one of the students got angry and insisted that she not speak about peace again in the classroom. Mayer’s principal so ordered her.

When the school district did not renew Mayer’s contract at the end of the semester, she sued for wrongful termination and for violation of her First Amendment rights.

On March 10, Judge Sarah Evans Barker dismissed Mayer’s case, granting summary judgment to the defendants.

The judge said the school district was within its rights to terminate Mayer because of various complaints it received from parents about her teaching performance.

But beyond that, Judge Barker ruled that “teachers, including Ms. Mayer, do not have a right under the First Amendment to express their opinions with their students during the instructional period.”

The judge ruled that “school officials are free to adopt regulations prohibiting classroom discussion of the war,” and that “the fact that Ms. Mayer’s January 10, 2003, comments were made prior to any prohibitions by school officials does not establish that she had a First Amendment right to make those comments in the first place.” The judge also implied that Mayer, by making her comments, was attempting to “arrogate control of the curricula.”

And the judge gave enormous leeway to school districts to limit teachers’ speech in the classroom.

“Whatever the school board adopts as policy regarding what teachers are permitted to express in terms of their opinions on current events during the instructional period, that policy controls, and there is no First Amendment right permitting teachers to do otherwise,” Judge Barker wrote.

The judge “has simply gotten the law wrong,” says Michael Schultz, Mayer’s attorney. “There is a long line of authority that teachers do not check their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door. And, in this case, Ms. Mayer was asked for her opinion in the context of teaching the approved curriculum. She only gave her opinion in a very appropriate, limited way and then related the issue to the students' lives (i.e., on the playground), and then moved on in the lesson. If giving one's opinion in response to a legitimate (and predictable) question is fair game for making a decision to terminate a teacher, who will want to teach? And, more importantly, what impact will this state of affairs have on the quality of instruction?”

Mayer says she’s going to appeal. “It’s too important not to,” she says. “Teachers everywhere are at risk because of what this judge has said.”

Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983.



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very troubling. i left my part time position last year because of community college politics - they dropped a requirement for students to lower the number of sections offered. the new vp runs around bragging about how phd's aren't necessary at that level and is running them off one by one. the school teachers voted to unionize (which is another skew that tells me - fuggedabouttit - it doesn't matter - do what needs to be done and dont worry about others.)
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