Teachers & Speech: How Limited Are They?

Elshadai Aberra | Managing Editor

Every American citizen possesses the freedom of speech, at least, to a certain extent.

When it comes to personal, political, or religious views, teachers do not possess complete freedom of speech in the classroom. Not only because of their part in educating students, but because of their position in our state government. However, teachers’ freedom of speech is not 100 percent limited as they are able to voice their beliefs outside of the classroom through social media or other platforms as long as it doesn’t impact their students.

“We are government agents, so we have to bear that in mind,” said principal Matt Shockley. “Even though I may have particular opinions about controversial issues such as abortion or other types of issues, I can’t share them [at school].”

Shockley said that teachers’ freedom of speech goes even beyond just sharing their own opinions, but also in choosing to censor students for theirs.

“It’s a balanced approach,” said Shockley. “It’s not like I could say ‘no, I can’t hear from you’ or silence people, but I certainly can’t favor people either, even if I have strong opinions.”

Assistant principal Kellie Rodkey adds that from an administrative perspective she chooses to censor her opinions so that all students may feel comfortable around her.

“I deal with a wide range of students from a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds,” said Rodkey. “I want them all, whether I agree with them or not, to feel safe and welcome in my office.”

For Rodkey, this suppression of personal beliefs stretches even beyond her office at Avon High School.

“This isn’t a law or anything, but I’m even careful with the social media I have,” said Rodkey. “I have a public Twitter account where I only post things school-related, and I have my own private account that I never post on but follow people on. I just don’t want anybody in the community to know what I follow because what I follow is probably going to give you a lot of ideas as to what my views are.”

This censorship, Rodkey said, is not always easy.

“It’s hard when you get a parent, especially a parent whose views are 180 degrees from yours, and you’re just screaming in your head,” said Rodkey. “You can never let them know that though because you always have to try to keep the best interest of the students in mind.”

However, teachers and staff’s limited freedom of speech goes beyond office visits and parent phone calls as they also impact lessons in the classroom.

In section 2240 of Avon’s policy manual, it is acknowledged that controversial issues may be a part of an instructional program, yet it is stated that they may only be included when directly related to the subject matter being taught.

As for teacher’s opinions during these unavoidable controversial discussions? They may be expressed, however, teachers “must not express such opinions for the purpose of persuading students to his/her point of view.”

Though it may sound as though teachers are robbed of their freedom of speech, that is not the case. In actuality, teachers are one of the only employees permitted to complain about their employers without risk of termination. This is due to the court case Pickering v. Board of Education which found that a teacher could not be fired for criticizing their superintendent because the school board was part of the government.



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