Teachers and the First Amendment

Jacob Duran

With the presidential elections approaching, we are all navigating difficult waters speaking to each other and respecting each others’ opinions. Teachers have a particular responsibility to remain neutral. The rules about expressing political and religious beliefs in class are very important. For some, it is no easy thing to follow these rules, as many classes require teachers to talk about current events. Here are the rules and why it can be so hard to follow them:

The First Amendment generally protects most forms of public speech and opinion. However, teachers are not allowed to state their political and religious beliefs or opinions in class. Why is that?

As employees of a public school district, a teachers’ statements in the classroom can be perceived as the district’s position, which means that their speech does not have the same level of protection as a private citizen would receive while expressing their views.

Furthermore, it is important to create a safe environment for students. If a teacher voices their own beliefs in class and a student does not share their opinion, the student might not feel that it is a safe environment to voice their own opinion.

When outside of school, teachers are generally protected by the First Amendment, but there are some exceptions. On social media, an employee’s speech can be regulated if it is about a personal grievance against a student, parent, or the employer.

These are some of the rules, but why can it be hard to follow them?

In certain situations, President Trump says one thing and mainstream news sources might say another. Who do we trust? When discussing topics about current political issues, a teacher may not state their opinion, but a teacher can and should state facts from a neutral perspective. The only problem is that with mixed messages from social media and the internet, we no longer have a shared reality. So called “facts” are manipulated and might stretch the truth or, in some cases, be outright lies.

To be able to discuss modern issues, we must have facts. The question is, how are teachers supposed to use “facts”, when everything and anything can have another source saying, “That’s a lie?” Who should decide which sources are reliable and which aren’t?

Want to hear more? Stay tuned for the next Red & Black issue. West High teachers will be interviewed to hear their opinion on teaching issues that face us today, while complying with the First Amendment.