If you know me, you know that I seldom look at the news in my everyday routine. I generally find that life is better with fewer headlines in it.
Yesterday was an exception to that rule. When I woke up, I checked the local news station to see if their was a snow day (alas there was not) and was greeted by a headline about a local High School. Thankfully, the news was not in my school district but in a local school nearby. Check out the story:
I have a multitude of concerns about this particular case, but what is most troubling to me is the fact that there is a growing population of the public that thinks she should not be prosecuted for her actions. Unfortunately, this movement seems to be at odds with recent rulings in education law. Since few people really know the laws that govern this (and most of education for that matter), I am going to take a moment to reference the casework, and how student demonstrations can actually hurt the teachers case.
The Supreme Court:
There are several recent rulings from the Supreme court that bear directly on the case at hand. In Garcetti v Ceballos the court ruled (in a 5-4 decision presented by Justice Kennedy) that when Public School employees are speaking about matters pertaining to their job, they waive their First Amendment rights and the right of Free Speech is instead given to the Employer. Roughly translated, this decision states that if you speak out in a way that specifically calls into question the actions or beliefs of your school, you can be fired (see the official synopsis from the National Education Association). Unfortunately, this means that it is entirely up to the district to discipline this teacher. Where this case becomes even more interesting is when we examine the content of her posts under this same scrutiny – specifically her reference to drug use.
Lets back-into the complications this raises for the teacher involved.
In Tinker v Des Moines (1969) the court ruled that students have freedom of speech in a school setting until that freedom disrupts the normal operation of the school. Following on the heels of that ruling, the court found (in another 5-4 decision) that speech related to drugs can be punished by school officials (Morse v Frederick 2007). When we take these two rulings together, we find something interesting: students who are protesting the loss of their teacher can be disciplined without first amendment violations due to the drug related nature of her dismissal. In Fales v. Garst, (8th Cir. 2001) the High Court stated that teachers can be dismissed for actions that “resulted in school factions and disharmony among their co-workers and negatively impacted [the principal’s] interest in efficiently administering the middle school.” Having to expend additional administrative effort to discipline and control protesting students will constitute a negative impact on the school and disharmony among co-workers.
Basically, by protesting and forming student groups against the dismissal of their teacher, they make it easier for the district to permanently remove that teacher.
The last case that bears some scrutiny is that of Morse v. Frederick (2007) the court upheld, in another 5-4 decision, that school districts can discipline students for protesting in a way that endorses illegal drugs (in this particular case, a sign that said “bong hits 4 jesus”). Now looking at the shirts that the students are wearing to support this teacher, they all sport marijuana decals and obvious references to smoking, thereby allowing them to be disciplined. You can see that tie in from the video below:
Just to sum up:
1. Students are protesting with weed on shirts allowing them to be disciplined under Morse v. Frederick
2. Since students can be disciplined for protesting, this constitutes a disruption of the learning environment under Tinker v Des Moines and Fales v. Garst which is directly caused by the teacher.