first amendment

rules and regs

poster campaign

New York

Political campaign buttons banned in schools?

Educators, take note: Chancellor's Regulation D-130, issued in 2004, requires that you "while on duty or in contact with students... maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates." And New York is not the only place where schools and universities are limiting how teachers can express their political views, according to PREA Prez Fred Klonsky. But the United Federation of Teachers objects to some of the limits on teachers' freedom of speech, according to an email Jonathan received from UFT Director of Staff LeRoy Barr: The DOE is disputing the right of our members to wear political buttons in schools. Our view is that there is a long line of First Amendment cases that hold that as long as individuals (including public employees) are not causing disruption or engaged in active electioneering or proselytizing, they have a right to exercise their freedom of speech at work, which includes wearing political buttons. Wearing an Obama or McCain button in class certainly wouldn't convey a neutral posture, but what about a button on one's jacket, worn only outside of school, if a student happened to ride the same bus? And is the Chancellor's Regulation legal, or, as the UFT asserts, would case law support a teacher's right to freedom of speech in the workplace, as long as it doesn't disrupt teaching and learning? The Washington State ACLU doesn't provide a clear answer in an overview of teachers' free speech rights: A court ruled that a New York teacher could not be fired for wearing a black armband in protest of the Vietnam War because the armband had caused no classroom disruption, was not perceived as an official statement of the school, did not interfere with instruction, and did not coerce or "arbitrarily inculcate doctrinaire views in the minds of the students." On the other hand, in another case a court upheld a dress code that prevented teachers from wearing political buttons in the classroom because school districts have legitimate authority to "dissociate themselves from matters of political controversy."