Online Freedom of Speech Goes Both Ways: PA Teacher is Right to Return to Blogging

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Last week, an English teacher in Central Bucks County PA was suspended for making statements on her blog about her students, their parents, and other teachers at her school. Her statements were made between Aug ’09 and Nov ’10 – and came to light last week when a parent found her blog online. The parent expressed concern to the school about the teacher’s statements in the blog – and the school reacted. Within 15 min of arriving at school on Wed morning last week, the teacher was escorted out the door. Within 24 hours, the teacher was the subject of a full-blown media debate on social media in the schools.

The teacher’s statements were critical. Critical of students whom she describes as “disengaged, lazy whiners.” She also wrote that a student was “frightfully dim;” about another, “rat-like.” She stated that she wished she could tell a parent, that “I hate your kid.” Statements in the blog were also critical of parents and other teachers.

On Saturday, the teacher used her blog site to defend her statements, and to call attention to what she describes as “serious problems with our education system today.” She states that “schools and school districts and parents take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villainize them and blame them for everything.”

The teacher’s attorney, Steve Rovner, stated that the school district “has no basis for firing her.” He went on to point out, that the school district has no policy governing social media in place – and that they specifically do not have a no-blogging policy in place.

Meantime, school and district administrators continue to “investigate” the blogging incidents. There are questions about whether the teacher wrote the blog on school time. [There is one blog entry in which the teacher states that she is blogging on school time, but she later clarifies that the school computer froze and she completed the blog in the evening from home.] The district superintendent stated last week that the statements made by the teacher on her blog site were “very egregious” and “certainly could result in termination.”

In Defense of the Teacher

While it is certainly true that teachers and others entrusted with our children are expected to adhere to a higher standard than most of us mortals, the teacher in this case is being unfairly pilloried in the press and is being unfortunately let down by her school district.

First, none of the comments in her blog named specific students nor teachers. Her comments amount to venting, and venting with a sometimes humerous bent. Second, the teacher did not make these comments meanly; she intended them for her known 9 followers – her family and friends. Admittedly, there is a lesson here in that comments made on the Internet are never private. However, she had no intention of hurting a student, parent, nor colleague.  Third, her comments are worth considering: all is not well in our schools and perhaps we should listen to teachers when they tell us that they feel unsupported.

Most importantly, however, the school district’s lack of a policy on social media invited problems. The district administrators – including superintendent N. Robert Laws himself – should take a hard look in the mirror.

Just as in the case of the CA student earlier this mo in which his comments on Facebook were considered to be free speech, I believe that the teacher in this case also has a right to free speech. As she says, why should teachers be restricted from doing something “that everyone else is allowed to do.” As long as here comments were not specific to an individual student, and they were not. As long as she blogged on her own time, and she says that she did.

I would hate to believe, as has been reported, that many teachers across the country have shut down their own blogs as a result of this story. We need the voices of teachers to be heard.

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