First Amendment Rights for School EmployeesPresentation Transcript
THEFIRST AMENDMENTFreedom of speech, association, & religion A publication of The SCEA. Do not distribute without permission. All rights reserved.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment ofreligion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom of speech is generally interpreted to be the freedom to speak freely without censorship or retribution. The synonymous term “freedom of expression” refers to conveying ideas using alternative mediums to verbal speech.In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute and notalways “free”. This presentation is limited to the discussion of free speech rights for school employees.
In 1968, Marvin Pickering, a high school teacher in Illinois, wrote a letterto the editor criticizing his school board for its handling of public funds.He was fired. His case was the first teacher First Amendment case heard by the Supreme Court. The court concluded that speech by a public employee which is derogatory of his or her school system is protected when it involves “a matter of compelling public concern.”The court ruled that how public officials spend public money is indeed a matter of significant public concern. All First Amendment cases with public employees now turn on the decision of this landmark case (Pickering v. Board of Education).
"Teachers are as a class the members of a community most likelyto have informed and definite opinions as to how funds allotted to the operation of the schools should be spent. Accordingly, it is essential that they be able to speak out freely on such questions without fear of retaliatory dismissal.” Pickering v. Board of Education United States Supreme Court, 1968
Public Interest vs. Private Interest Public ?? Private ?? The School’s: Your: 1. Curriculum 1. employment contract 2. School budget 2. dispute with your 3. Testing principal 4. Textbooks 3. performance evaluation 5. Grading policies 4. comments about 6. Discipline policies individual employees of 7. Board policies the district
In Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006), the United States Supreme Courtruled that when public employees speak while performing theirofficial duties, (i.e., “job duty speech”), this speech is not protectedby the First Amendment and can be the basis for discipline ordischarge. The speech is not protected even if the employees arecommunicating to their superiors about corruption orwrongdoing. In reaching this decision, the Court reasoned thatemployers have an interest in controlling their employees’professional speech because “official communications haveofficial consequences.”
Free speech doesn’t mean a teacher can say what hewants to about whom he wants to where he wants toand when he wants to.It’s just not that simple….
In a 2007 Pennsylvania federal court case, a high schoolteacher sued her school district for violation of her FirstAmendment right to exercise free speech withoutretaliation. The teacher spoke out during instructionaltime about the mold in her building and her relatedhealth problems and referenced a meeting with twoschool district administrators in which theadministrators instructed her to teach only thecurriculum and not to discuss her environmentalconcerns or health problems in class. In her case, thecourt held that a school district can restrict teachers’classroom speech to curriculum-related topics only.
While job duty speech is not protected by the FirstAmendment for K-12 educators and public employees,speech may be protected when statements are made outsidethe course of an employee performing official duties (i.e.,“citizen speech”).Examples of “citizen speech” include when an educatorwrites a letter to a newspaper as a private citizen expressingopinion about a matter of public interest.
SummaryEducators are held to a higher standard by the community. Theirability to influence others, especially children, means their actionsand speech are under constant scrutiny, whether at work or “off duty”.A teacher who finds himself in jeopardy has the right to fight forhis right to free speech, and should. Likewise, teachers should usecaution when they are tempted to engage in derogatorydiscussion about their employer, no matter where they are.