Teacher Employment, Evaluation and Dismissal

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

One of the teachers in my building is quite involved in political affairs and he regularly posts commentary on his blog. This week, however, I think that he went too far. Posting about the results of the recent election, he offered the observation that the mayor and entire political establishment in my town should be very worried because their days in control of town affairs are numbered. That was bad enough, but then he went on to recount a number of incidents in which the mayor had made mistakes and embarrassed himself. Unfortunately, I was not alone in my concern; the mayor’s assistant called me up to ask what I was going to do about this “disloyalty” by a town employee. I told him that it’s a free country and that the teacher has a right to express himself. The response from the mayor’s assistant, however, was concerning. He just responded curtly that he would report back to the mayor on where I stand.

I do believe that teachers do have free speech rights but, given the conversation with the mayor’s assistant, I thought that I should do something. I called the teacher down to the office and asked him in my most charming voice if he ever considered toning it down. I explained that the mayor tries hard and has a lot of influence. Maybe it would be better for everyone, I wondered aloud with him, if he would stop criticizing the mayor. The teacher was polite but non-committal. In any event, I was shocked to read in his next blog post his version of our meeting. There, he described how I had sought to “stifle” his “free speech,” and he declared that he would never be silenced.

Now I am mad. Can I discipline the teacher for publicizing a private meeting in which I simply counseled him that his obnoxious posts may not be worth the trouble they cause?

Thank you,
Righteously Indignant

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