When a ninth-grade English teacher at El Camino Charter High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District wore a T-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” in bold letters across the front, she found herself in hot water (“L.A. teacher flees home amid threats after wearing ‘I can’t breathe’ T-shirt to online class,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 28).
What followed is deeply disturbing. One parent complained, sharing a screenshot of the teacher on social media. Death threats soon followed, forcing the teacher and her daughter to flee from her home. Hundreds of teachers in the district wore Black Lives Matter shirts to class in support. The school’s administration did not come to her aid.
The question is whether teachers are permitted to express their personal opinions about issues of public interest in class. What public school teachers express outside of class is a different story. When I was teaching in the LAUSD, the policy was clear: Teachers were supposed to present both sides of controversial issues. Whether wearing a T-shirt with any slogan violates that policy remains for the courts to decide.
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