Out of School Faculty Behavior
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, public school faculty are facing scrutiny and accountability for their behavior in and out of school. In their professional roles, faculty are faced with ethical issues, increased student needs, increased student violence, new technology, new teaching standards, and battles over teachers' rights. Different laws and mores govern faculty behavior in and out of school. Faculty at all levels, including elementary, secondary, and higher education, are held to different work standards and personal standards by parents, teachers unions, school boards, and the society at large. Out of school, faculty speech is protected under the First Amendment. Out of school, the teacher-student relationship limits and curtails faculty behavior as it is related to students. In school, faculty are subject to the rules and laws that govern employee-employer relationships as well as the standards and laws that direct teacher student relationships.
Keywords American Civil Liberties Union; Bill of Rights; Blogs; Boundary Violations; Ethics; Faculty; Fiduciary Relationship; First Amendment; Freedom of Expression; Mentors; Public Schools; School Districts; Supreme Court; Teacher Student Relationships
At the beginning of the twenty first century, faculty face scrutiny and accountability for their behavior in and out of school. In their professional roles, faculty are faced with ethical issues, increased student needs, increased student violence, new technology, new teaching standards, and battles over teachers' rights. Different laws and mores govern faculty behavior in and out of school. Faculty at all levels, including elementary, secondary, and higher education, are held to different work standards and personal standards by parents, teachers unions, school boards, and the society at large. Out of school, faculty speech is protected under the First Amendment. Out of school, the teacher student relationship limits and curtails faculty behavior as it is related to students. In school, faculty are subject to the rules and laws that govern employee-employer relationships as well as the standards and laws that direct teacher student relationships.
This article provides an examination of the issue of faculty behavior out of school. It addresses the question of whether or not teachers have the right to free speech outside of school as well as the liberties guaranteed teachers outside of school and the curtailment of some teacher student relationships and behaviors. The following sections discuss teachers' First Amendment rights. The relationship between faculty behavior, district policies, and federal education law are also discussed. The line between professional and personal faculty behavior and teacher student relationships is addressed and the role of faculty as mentor is examined.
Inside and outside of the school environment, faculty enjoy different First Amendment protections. In school, faculty are subject to the desires, wills, commands, and perspectives of their employers. Inside the school environment, the personal opinions of faculty are not protected as free speech. Outside of the school environment, the First Amendment protects the personal opinions of faculty. In the United States, freedom of expression is guaranteed and protected by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights prohibits the national government from limiting freedom of expression. It states that the government and Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, 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 expression refers to a person's right to say or publish what he or she believes. Freedom of expression comes with societal and legal parameters. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has defined numerous instances of impermissible speech. Throughout the twentieth century, the Supreme Court, the highest federal court in the United States, ruled on conflicts surrounding issues related to freedom of expression, such as free speech, free press, obscenity, libel, slander, symbolic speech, and commercial speech. Supreme Court rulings have defined the parameters of free speech that are acceptable in our society.
The American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) protects the free speech rights of public school teachers. The American Civil Liberties Union, established in 1920, is a legal organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties such as First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, right to due process, and right to privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union, and other legal organizations, believes that freedom of expression requires constant legal vigilance and protection. The American Civil Liberties Union publishes information about the free speech rights of teachers as related to speech outside of school, speech inside the classroom, teachers' clothing, classroom or office decoration, bulletin boards, on-campus conversations with colleagues, and on-campus demonstrations or meetings open to the public. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment protects teacher speech outside of the school environment. The American Civil Liberties Union promotes information about the law to inform teacher and school district behavior and relations. The American Civil Liberties Union shares the following information about teachers' rights with the general public:
• Teachers do not forfeit the right to comment publicly on matters of public importance simply because they accept a public school teaching position.
• Teachers cannot be fired or disciplined for statements about matters of public importance unless it can be demonstrated that the teacher's speech created a substantial adverse impact on school functioning.
• A teacher's off-campus statements regarding the war or participation in an off-campus political demonstration are not acceptable bases for job discipline or termination.
Applicable Court Cases
The Constitution provides little protection for teachers who express their beliefs in the classroom. Two court cases illustrate the different free speech protections afforded teachers inside and outside the classroom. In 2003, the Mayer v. Monroe County Community School Corporation court case found that public employees, including primary and secondary school teachers, do not have a constitutional right to share their own beliefs and opinions when speaking as employees. The court case was brought by a teacher, Deborah Mayer, whose contract was not renewed after telling her students, "I honk for peace," during a discussion of war protests and the war in Iraq. The court case followed a January 2003 ruling by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that declared a teacher's speech to be a commodity that he or she sells to an employer in exchange for a salary (Egelko, 2007).
In contrast, a 2006 court case between a substitute teacher, Jeffrey Herman, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and the Boston Teachers Union illustrates the free speech rights of teachers outside of school. In this case, the teacher Jeffrey Herman was put on a do not employ list by a school headmaster after the headmaster heard the teacher testify at a City Council hearing against the spending of one million dollars on Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in the Boston public schools. The parties involved settled the case out of court. The attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts issued a statement explaining that teachers, out of school, are entitled to political opinions like other members of society.
The current socio-political climate creates students and teachers who know their rights and administrators charged with protecting the safety of a diverse student body. The U.S. democratic process invites and facilitates the process of questioning and challenging constitutional rights and liberties. As society and culture develop, new environments and scenarios arise in public institutions that require constitutional interpretation. Educational institutions, as a cornerstone of society, require constitutional review, oversight, and interpretation. The interpretation of the Constitution is an ongoing process. The public education system has become a location of Constitutional challenge and interpretation. The U.S. education system, a relatively new and still evolving public institution, is often in tension with public mores and Constitutional law.
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