When Ethical Culture Fieldston, a progressive private school in New York City, fired a history teacher for criticizing Israel in school and on his Twitter account, it raised the question of whether free speech exists in non-public schools (“Fieldston, Elite Private School, Faces Backlash From Jewish Parents,” The New York Times, Jan. 10). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Pickering v. Board of Education in 1968 that public statements by public school teachers about issues of public importance are protected speech and teachers cannot be fired.
The situation in private and religious schools, however, is entirely different. It’s hard to understand why the Fieldston history teacher was fired for what he posted on his private Twitter account. That should be completely different from what he said in class about Israel, or in fact about any issue because teachers’ speech is hired by the district or by the school. What teachers in any school say off campus is not part of the bargain.
I realize that certain statements by teachers are bound to create a backlash by stakeholders, but part of the education process is to expose students to ideas that by their very nature make them feel uncomfortable. How they handle those situations is part of their education. I have no brief for the Fieldston teacher, but I think the school was wrong in terminating him for his private comments.
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