A nine-year veteran teacher was fired from Imagine Prep charter school in Los Angeles for having political bumper stickers on her car. (See Teacher at Imagine Charter School Fired for Bumper Stickers, from the Solidaridad blog). While many Americans erroneously believe their free speech rights are inalienable (you do actually lose many rights, including free speech, in private workplaces and, to a lesser extent, in public workplaces), this teacher never would have been fired so easily from a unionized public school. Her situation, though, is just one of many in which teachers’ right to free expression in public are being curtailed by their employers (please see the examples below, after the video).
Meanwhile, a teacher in suburban Philadelphia, Natalie Munroe, was suspended for anonymously blogging about anonymous students. Teachers do not give up their free speech rights when they leave campus, according to the ACLU, so she was within her legal rights. Various courts have ruled against free speech when it disrupts the mission of the school. However, in Munroe’s case, she never divulged her name, the name of the school or the names of any students, making it a very long stretch to argue that she in anyway disrupted the school climate, that is until she courageously (or naively) admitted everything to her principal. Munroe has a new blog, which can be read here.
The attacks on teachers’ expression, particularly off campus, conjure up memories of 19th and early 20th century morality, in which teachers were fired for moral turpitude, having a family, or being visibly pregnant, not to mention insubordination (a general catchall that includes any questioning or criticism of policy).
A Few More Examples:
- A California teacher was sued by a student for calling creationism “superstitious nonsense.”
- A school custodian lost a free speech case in which he was fired for reporting a suspected asbestos contamination on campus
- An Indiana teacher was fired for making an anti-war statement in class
- A Colorado teacher was disciplined for making disparaging remarks about President Bush
- An Ohio teacher was fired for assigning Heather Has Two Mommies and Siddhartha to her high school students and the disciplinary action was upheld by the courts
- A Michigan special education teacher was fired for whistle-blowing about student caseloads that exceeded the legal limit. The courts have ruled that such whistle-blowing (i.e., “On-the-job speech”) is NOT protected speech.