Controversial issues in classrooms put teachers at risk

The events of the past year have tempted many teachers to bring these realities into their classrooms as a way of engaging students (“Bringing Politics Into the Classroom,” The Atlantic, Dec. 2020).  While I understand their intent, I remind them that doing so without prior approval can subject them to dismissal.

I’m referring now to what the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held in 2010 in Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of Tipp City Exempted Village School District.  It ruled that only school boards can determine the curriculum.  Therefore, no matter how much teachers want to revamp their lesson plans, they need to rethink the consequences.

The reality is that public school teachers do not have academic freedom. Courts have consistently ruled that districts essentially hire the speech of teachers.  As a result, teachers put themselves in jeopardy by ignoring the boundaries.

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One Reply to “Controversial issues in classrooms put teachers at risk”

  1. Another reason that teachers need unions. Completely agree that teachers, as employees, do not have First Amendment free speech rights in the classroom; they must teach the prescribed curriculum or risk discipline/discharge.

    However, there are cases where a teacher pushes the envelope a bit — that is, teaches the curriculum but in a way that upsets some parents and/or school board members — and then gets disciplined or discharged when the sanctions are way out of proportion to the job misconduct (if indeed there was any real misconduct). A recent example in the news was a teacher who got in trouble for having a black student play the role of a slave in a short class play re-enacting some aspect of slavery. The class play was entirely consistent with the curriculum, but some parents objected to the teacher assigning the slave role to a black student. Arguably insensitive; arguably effective teaching; arguably wrong to not assign the slave role to a black student just because the student was black. Not something that warranted discipline or discharge. That’s the kind of situation where a no-union-representation teacher is pretty much at the mercy of the principal/school board who is looking to appease the mad parent.


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