Published Online: May 15, 2007
Published in Print: May 16, 2007, as Court Finds Teacher’s Postings Are Form of Curricular Speech

Law Update

Court Finds Teacher’s Postings Are Form of Curricular Speech

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Information on a classroom bulletin board is a form of school-sponsored, curricular speech, and a teacher did not have a free-speech right to post religious items on his bulletin board, a federal appeals court has ruled.

William Lee was a Spanish teacher at Tabb High School in Yorktown, Va., in the fall of 2004 when the public school’s principal received complaints about what the teacher had posted on his board. The principal removed several items, including a National Day of Prayer poster and news clippings about voluntary White House staff prayer gatherings and about “The God Gap” exploring religious differences between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, then the Democratic nominee for president.

Mr. Lee sued the 12,700-student York County school district and various officials, alleging that they had deprived him of his First Amendment free-speech rights. He argued in court papers that the district had no clear policy on what teachers could post on classroom bulletin boards. He said he believed his students could find hope and inspiration from the messages he posted.

A federal district court in Newport News, Va., ruled for the school officials, and in a May 2 decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., unanimously agreed.

The court said the bulletin board postings were not speech by Mr. Lee on a matter of public concern because they were curricular in nature.

“They were designed to impart particular knowledge to the students,” the court said. Even though he didn’t refer to the items during instructional time, it added, students and parents were likely to view such in-class speech as “approved and supported by the school.”

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For more stories on this topic see Teachers.

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