North Carolina To Teachers: No Free Speech For You!

North Carolina To Teachers: No Free Speech For You!

Some public school teachers— no doubt tired of buying their own school supplies and grading a bunch of incorrigible kids’ papers written in textspeak and generally being the most disrespected government employees in the state—have taken to demonstrating their commitment to public schools by wearing red for ed. For education that is, and they are heroes to be teaching in North Carolina instead of fleeing to the private sector like so many education tax dollars, or to Texas.

And now, under Senate Bill 480, their support for public education could earn them a Class 1 misdemeanor, because supporting public education is being considered a political view. That’s the equivalent of simple assault, or robbing a vending machine. Just wearing a red shirt in the classroom to say you support education.

As Melissa Geil, a freelance writer and English teacher writes in a blog post for Women AdvaNCe, the law makes sense in theory. You don’t want your kid’s teacher espousing political views in class or otherwise doing something on the taxpayer’s dime that they’re not being paid to do.

Wait, what? How is standing up for public education -- a longstanding universal right in this country -- in any way political? And how is wearing a red shirt, assuming there's no logo or other words on it, doing anything on the taxpayer's dime anyway? Those teachers have to wear some kind of shirt no matter what, so why not a red one?

What if a teacher likes red? What if he or she has red shirts they wore before the WearRed4Ed Facebook initiative began? How is this in any way remotely consistent with the first amendment?

More from Melissa Geil:

Which means there is more to it than punishing teachers for not doing their jobs.

“What makes it difficult,” says Ann McColl, an education law attorney and writer for EdNC, is “the notion that promoting public education has become a political statement.”

McColl speaks to the “chilling effect” that this bill could have on teachers. When classroom speech is being policed to the point where a civics teacher might go to jail for talking about writing their elected officials, the climate of fear that would ensue would ensure faculty silence on all fronts. Because who knows what constitutes criminalized speech? What types of speech cross the line? The bill is unclear.


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For example, there is a line in the law about the instruction of “civic literacy,” but then stipulates that it is a crime to “encourage student advocacy for or against issues of local, state, or federal policy.” Does that mean if a student asks you how to write to one of their lawmakers because they are against a certain bill, are you not allowed to show them how to find the address? Maybe? But you don’t want to get in trouble, so you better not. That’s what “chilling effect” means.

Policies such as these may, in fact, violate First Amendment rights. We saw this in Pickering v. Board of Education in 1968. In this case, Justice Thurgood Marshall said that the “threat of dismissal is nonetheless a potent means of inhibiting speech.” Not only will North Carolina teachers have the threat of dismissal, they also would be subject to criminal proceedings.

Someone needs to explain to me how Billionaire Bucks are sanctioned as free speech and teachers in red shirts are criminals. I truly don't understand it.

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