Rights are moral or legal claim to have or to get something or behave in a particular way. Teachers all over the world enjoy a variety of rights pertaining to their employment. These rights include: recognition of various freedom, protection from various forms of discrimination and against unlawful dismissal. (Taylor 2001)
Freedom of speech outside the school environment
The extent of a teacher’s freedoms depends upon the content of the expression as well as the context in which the teacher exercises this freedom. This can be well seen in the case of Pickering versus the Board of Education in which a teacher was dismissed for having sent a letter criticizing the Board of Education concerning past efforts to raise revenue for schools to a local newspaper. The Courts decided that, a teacher’s exercise of his or her freedom of speech on issues of importance may not bring about the basis for his or her dismissal from employment. The Court also recognized that the letter concerned a matter of public interest and there was no quality evidence to prove that it interfered with his ability to do his teaching duties. His views were not different from those of other members of the public. Thus, the teacher could not be dismissed for the exercise of his freedom of speech.
Freedom of expression in school
The Supreme Court has employed two main standards to evaluate cases pertaining freedom of speech of teachers in the school.In Tinker versus.
Des Moines Independent School District, the Supreme Court held that a group of students’ freedom of expression was over looked when school officials suspended students for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. (Taylor& Kelly, 2001).
The Court said that restrictions on in-school expression were valid only if the expressive activities collided with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the school’s operations. The Court also reasoned that, apprehension of disturbance or undifferentiated fear is not enough to overcome the right of freedom of expression. Moreover, school officials should not prevent expression just to avoid discomfort and unpleasantness accompanying a particular focus point.Although Tinker only involved the freedom of expression only to students, the Court indirectly recognized the similar rights of teachers as well.
In the case of James versus the Board of Education, a federal appeals court applied the Tinker test and held that a high school teacher also had a First Amendment right to wear a black arm band into the classroom to protest the Vietnam War (Taylor, Kelly 2001). The Court held that the teacher’s armband passed the two-part test in Tinker’s case and also did not interfere with the teacher’s teaching duties. The court saw that although the teacher had a more influencing power over the students than an outsider, the teacher was not persuasive and did not try to intentionally force student to in calculate his views in their minds and that the high school students were able distinguish between a teacher’s personal views and those that are the official position of the school’s board. Courts will always find that educational administrators’ decisions are most likely related to legitimate pedagogical concerns of the expressive decisions of the students.
The right of religion
The government cannot restrict a teacher’s religious expression when He or she is acting in his or her own capacity as a private individual.
However, the government or the school board has a greater authority to limit a teacher’s religious expression or exercise when it is necessary to avoid a violation of the established rules and regulations (establishment clause). The Supreme Court holds that the Establishment Clause forbids the government from acting with the purpose of advancing or inhibiting religion or coercing individuals to participate in religious practices. Teachers should generally be free to wear clothing and jewelry that indicate their adherence to a religious faith as long as they are not proselytizing or disruptive. Courts have continually held that nuns and Muslim women should not be forbidden from wearing their habits, abayas and hijabs while teaching in schools. Similarly, teachers should be free to wear rosaries.The Court reasoned that permitting the teacher to wear the religious clothing may not present violation of the establishment clause but held that the prohibition was justified by the school board interests in maintaining a “religiously neutral environment” and avoiding litigation. The teachers can be permitted slightly more time in discussing religious matters with students outside the classroom than they would otherwise have inside the classroom. They may also have a greater degree of freedom to discuss religious matters with students outside of the classroom environment when the conversations are student initiated and the teacher is merely responding to the student’s questions. Educational administrators cannot prohibit religious discussions among teachers when they are not engaged in actual classroom instructions. Religious discussion among adult faculty members not in the presence of students does not violate the Clause. (David &Steven 1996).
Right to academics and curriculum
The authority to determine the content of courses taught in schools lies with the school board. Therefore, the teachers cannot overtake the authority of the school board by adding or omitting coursework from the proposed curriculum. Nevertheless, the school board’s authority to determine the curriculum is not absolute and it should not dismiss teachers for random classroom comments. The Supreme Court holds that, allowing school officials to completely exclude a particular subject from the classroom runs the risk of over shadowing the work of the teachers. Thus, a school board may not prohibit the teaching of any topic including evolution and religion.
Right to an informed dismissal
Most of the states protect teachers and especially the public school teachers through tenure statutes (the right to stay permanently in ones job). Once a teacher has signed a contract, it is renewed automatically every year. The school board can only do away with a contracted teacher by showing the reason and after providing the teacher with a notice, specific charges to the teacher and giving the teacher a fair hearing. It also protects the teachers from demotions, salary deductions and other disciplinary measures. Before a teacher attains tenure, he or she can be fired at the discretion of the school’s board. However, the contract does not indicate that a teacher can retain a specific position.
Teacher’s right of privacy
Teachers spend so much time with other people’s children; no wonder that educational administrators and parents push to obtain as much information about their teachers as possible.
Unfortunately teachers do not have much legal protection of their personal privacy which is made worse by the fact that most teachers are ignorant about this protecting. Students have ample privacy protection in the laws but the teachers have very little beyond those in the Bill of Rights. The privacy rights of teachers are usually outweighed by the morals that a community has to protect even though what the teacher does is legal. For the student’s safety, the teachers are required by the law to give personal details that they consider personal. When they are beginning, the teachers are more concerned about getting the job than the information they are giving. Therefore, it makes it easier for the administrators and the interviewers to gain a sneak preview of the private lives of the applicant’s.This can be mainly attributed to the problem of neglected training on the college level. This private information may be damaging to the teachers career. Without this basic knowledge, the beginner can have difficulties in identifying the information to be told to the interviewer and the information to keep to one self. Protecting these privacy rights is important to teachers because teachers who behave in ways that conflict with the norms and beliefs of the community within which they teach can be terminated. Teachers need to evaluate the community around them to see if their own behavior and morals conflict with those of the society and whether they would make the people around them agitated. Therefore, teachers should protect their privacy and also the colleges should play a key role in educating the teachers about their privacy even though they have a lot to cover in terms of their education units. (Spencer, Hoffman& Darlene, 2001).
Conclusion: Teachers do not surrender their constitutional rights once they enter the education sector. The courts however, have identified that there are instances in which these rights may be face some limitations or defer to other interests. Although the recent court decisions have helped indicate the extent to which a teacher may assert his or her constitutional rights in light of other competing interests, there are many unresolved issues. As a result, the struggle for the freedom of teachers continues. They should therefore understand their rights and be well acquainted with the judicial and legislative information by which they as private citizens may achieve greater protection for their constitutional rights in schools.
- Spencer, Ray C. & Hoffman, Darlene Haffner ( 2001) Protecting teachers’ privacy rights. In The Education Forum (v65 no3). Online.
- Taylor, Kelly R. (2001) Boston Public: Reality TV? In Principal Leadership (v1 no8). Online.
- Martha M. McCarthy, Nelda H. Cambron-McCabe, Stephen B. Thomas (2004) Legal Rights of Teachers and Students, Boston, Pearson Education.
- David Rubin, Steven Greenhouse, (1996) The Rights of Teachers: The Basic ACLU Guide to a Teacher’s Constitutional Rights, Illinois, Southern Illinois University Press.