Flickr photo by Ann Oro
School boards are trying to reverse a federal court ruling banning administrators from controlling the free-speech rights of teachers and other school employees.
According to a brief filed yesterday in 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the California School Boards Association (CSBA) argue that public K to 12 schools need discretion to regulate their employees’ expressions in the workplace.
“Public-school officials need authority over what teachers say and do in the classroom,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant in a press release. “Nearly every teacher posts artwork and other materials on their walls, and schools have a responsibility to ensure those materials are appropriate for students.”
The case stems from an incident in Poway Unified School District. According to published reports, Principal Dawn Kastner of Westview High School asked teacher Bradley Johnson to remove banners he posted around his classroom with the phrases: "In God we trust," "One nation under God," "God bless America," "God shed his grace on thee" and "All men are created equal, they are endowed by their creator."
Johnson claims the school violated his First Amendment free-speech rights and contradicted an internal policy that allowed teachers to display messages and items in their classrooms “that reflect the individual teacher’s personality, opinions and values, as well as messages relating to matters of political, social and religious concerns, so long as these displays do not materially disrupt school work or cause substantial disorder or interference in the classroom.”
In February, a federal judge agreed with Johnson, saying the district had practiced viewpoint discrimination.
CSBA hopes the appellate court will reject that decision. It points to a recent U.S Supreme Court ruling that held the speech of public employees in the course of doing their jobs can be regulated by the employer.
It is important the court apply established precedent that recognizes public employers’ authority to manage on-the-job speech of their employees, including the classroom speech of teachers,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.
“Schools, in particular, need to regulate teacher-classroom speech, because teachers are in a unique position to greatly influence their students’ thinking and behavior.
For more information, see the brief and a legal analysis posted below. Legal Alert on Poway Ruling