Section 6: Teacher Rights
The Right to Criticize: A teacher may speak out, as any other citizen may, on matters of public concern.
This right is protected by the First Amendment. However, if an educator knowingly makes false or
reckless statements that disrupt the learning environment, then no First Amendment ends are served, and
there is no protection. Private criticism is likewise protected, but a teacher may be dismissed if private
speech impedes the performance of classroom duties. The impact of private speech may be judged
according to the time, place and manner of the comments.
A school board may dismiss a teacher (or decide not to renew a teacher's contract) even if that teacher's
constitutional rights were violated, if there are other valid reasons for the termination. For example, in the
case of Mount Healthy v Doyle (429 U.S. 274, 1977), a non-tenured teacher criticized school policy over a
local radio station. This speech is protected under the First Amendment.
However, that teacher also engaged in a physical fight with another teacher, argued with cafeteria
employees, cursed at students and made lewd gestures at female students. His contract was not
renewed and he sued, asserting that his call to the radio station was the primary reason for his dismissal.
The school board could have reasonably reached the same decision to terminate, even if the free speech
issue had not taken place.
Political Activity: Teachers may engage in political activities under the protection of the First
Amendment. However, a teacher may not engage in such activities if they disrupt the educational
environment or learning process. A teacher may also not use their position to promote any particular
political outcome or to use his classroom for political purposes. Political activity must not disrupt the
educational process or detract from a teacher's job performance.
Political Office: A teacher may run for public office but may not hold positions simultaneously that are not
compatible. Some states have enacted conflict of interest laws that specify that a teacher may act as a
state legislator while employed as a teacher. If there is no such state law, a teacher may serve as both.
A teacher, however, may be required to take a leave of absence while serving in a legislative capacity.
Personal Appearance: A school board may impose reasonable regulations regarding the appearance of
its employees. The courts recognize the liberty interests of an individual's personal appearance, but
those liberty interests are weighted less than those of procreation, marriage and family life. If a school
board correctly concludes that a teacher's style of dress has an adverse effect on learning, that liberty
interest is subordinate to the public interest. The overriding constitutional issue is whether dress and
grooming regulations are irrational or arbitrary, therefore depriving a teacher of the liberty interest in
Privacy: No person can be denied government employment because of factors that are not connected to