Constitutional Cases Involving Teachers: Teachers' Workplace Rights Have Been Shrinking in the Past Few Decades. in Some Cases, Teachers Can Even Be Fired for Doing What They Are Paid to Do
Sanchez, John, Phi Delta Kappan
The law of public employment has come a long way since 1892. That's when Oliver Wendell Holmes made his infamous statement, "The petitioner may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman." (1) Back then, public employment was seen as a privilege, not a right. Today, it's clear that a public employee does not shed his constitutional rights at the workplace door.
While public employees have more rights than they did in the 19th century, their legal protections have been decreasing in the past two decades. Public employees' constitutional rights reached a peak during the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the Supreme Court has been diluting their rights.
Some of the most significant court decisions shaping the employment environment for public school teachers have come in the areas of freedom of expression, procedural due process, and search and seizure.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The landmark case in terms of setting constitutional standards for teacher employment came in 1968 in Pickering v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that "a teacher's exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment." (2) In Pickering, the Court ruled that a public employer had to show a "compelling state interest" before firing a teacher for speaking about matters of public concern. In such a case, the court must balance the rights of the employee against the public employer's right to run an efficient workplace. Pickering represents the closest that the free speech rights of teachers approached those of the general public.
In 1983, the Supreme Court clarified public employees' free speech rights in Connick v. Myers. (3) The Court ruled that when a public employee speaks out on a matter of private or personal interest and not as a citizen on matters of public concern, the speech is not protected by the First Amendment. "When employee expression cannot be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, government officials should enjoy wide latitude in managing their offices, without intrusive oversight by the judiciary in the name of the …
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Publication information: Article title: Constitutional Cases Involving Teachers: Teachers' Workplace Rights Have Been Shrinking in the Past Few Decades. in Some Cases, Teachers Can Even Be Fired for Doing What They Are Paid to Do. Contributors: Sanchez, John - Author. Journal title: Phi Delta Kappan. Volume: 90. Issue: 10 Publication date: June 2009. Page number: 724+. © 1999 Phi Delta Kappa, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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