A New York City teachers union has filed suit in federal court attacking a Department of Education policy that teachers should not engage in politicking on school grounds and times. In line with ACLU policies, they seek the right to tell students what politics they should follow.
The facts for this article, but not the legal conclusions, come from an article in the New York Times on 10 October, 2008. The New York City teachers union has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a Department of Education policy which forbids teachers from expressing their political opinions on school premises, violate their constitutional rights.
While the Times doesn’t say whether the ACLU is directly involved in the case, it quotes Norman Siegel, “a civil liberties lawyer who is helping with the case….” I have researched the kind of cases that Mr. Siegal has taken. If he is not an ACLU lawyer presently, he will be welcome with open arms anytime he seeks that status. His views match their views.
The policy under attack states that, “while on duty or in contact with students, all school personnel shall maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates.” The conclusion therefore is that “school staff may not wear buttons or apparel in support of a political candidate while in school or during school activities.”
A spokesman for the Education Department said, “We don’t want a school or school staff advocating for any political position or candidate to students, and we don’t want students feeling intimidated because they might hold a different belief or support a different candidate than their teachers.”
The position of the teachers union was stated by its President, who is also President of the American Federation of Teachers. She also spoke at the Democratic National Convention. And, her union has endorsed Barack Obama for President. She said that teachers could “balance their obligations as professionals and their responsibilities as citizens…. Teachers, maybe more than others, understand how important democracy is and how important the Constitution is, particularly the Bill of Rights.”
The article noted that the first enforcement efforts of the Department concerned Obama for President posters and buttons used by teachers in their schools.
The suit should be dismissed because courts have ruled that people in a position of authority (including teachers) cannot use public places and funds to enforce their personal views on others over whom they have great influence (including teachers).
The article concludes with a seemingly favorable quote from the president of the union: “Students can only benefit from being exposed to and engaged in a dialogue about current events.” Neither the union president, the writer of the article, nor her editor, noticed that the word “dialogue” means a conversation back and forth. It does not mean a situation in which people in authority impress their views on people who are subordinate to them.
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