Teachers at various points across the country have come under fire recently for showing their support for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The Virginia Education Association sent out an e-mail encouraging its members to wear “Obama blue” last week, prompting outrage among state Republicans about political influence in schools. In New York City, meanwhile, the Department of Education has clamped down on a United Federation of Teachers plan to have teachers wear pro-Obama buttons in their classrooms. And a group of teachers at Soquel High School in Santa Cruz, CA chose to wear “Educators for Obama” buttons in school. These events have re-raised issues of a teacher’s rights to free speech and the place of politics in the classroom.
John Hadley, a pro-McCain parent whose daughter attends Soquel, was angered by the button-wearing teachers, saying, "[They] lose their free-speech rights when they go into a classroom. They are allowed to stick to the curriculum, not political views.”
According to the San Jose Mercury News, under California law, limits on teachers political activities at school are set by districts. In general, legal decisions in the state the have held that teaches are permitted to wear political buttons to school but not during class time. At this point, the Soquel teachers have decided not to wear theirs.
In defense of their in-school Obama support, several New York City teachers cited a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The ruling, which focused on political protest in school, stated that as long as the actions weren’t “disruptive and did not impinge upon the rights of others … [the activity was] within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth.”
The NY DOE responded to the button handouts by saying, “Schools are not a place for politics and not a place for staff to wear political buttons … 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.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.