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Pop Quiz: Freedom of Speech in the Classroom

In 2006 the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos that public employee’s “job duty speech” is not protected under the First Amendment. That means that while on the clock teachers of public institutions are not afforded freedom of speech.  This includes primary and secondary public school teachers and perhaps faculty at public universities, though it is my understanding that the court reserved the question about university faculty performing their official duties for a later date.

While the ruling does protect an individual’s right to “citizen speech” outside  the course of official duties, it can have some unlooked for consequences in the school building.  For instance the only time in the day that I am not on the clock is my 30 minute lunch, so at that time I can say what I like, about politics or how the canned green beans the cafeteria serves are gross.  But during cafeteria duty when I am chatting with the other monitors or students my comment about the green beans could get me sanctioned.  I actually think that even on my lunch break if I said something controversial that students overheard I would be sanctioned. This sanctioning can be anything from a verbal reprimand to getting fired.   If the administration is looking to get rid of a teacher this is a clean, clear way to start the process of terminating a teacher.

I see this ruling cutting both ways.  It gives control to administrators and allows them to sanction teachers that are being inappropriate by bringing in their personal beliefs and biases to the classroom.  This would allow a teacher who was teaching conspiracy theories like the substitute teacher in Michigan to be fired.  On the other hand what if I was teaching evolution in a community that was opposed to it?  Could I be fired for teaching an established theory in the appropriate class? Or what about the mine field that is current events in a social studies class?

This is my question to you:  Should teachers in public institutions be afforded some level of freedom of speech?  Should there be a standard for elementary and high school teacher that is different for university faculty?

 The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

Featured image by Emory Maiden

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

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