Should teachers’ comments on Facebook and Twitter be limited?
School districts across the country are addressing the limits of a teacher’s right to post comments on social networking sites. One case in particular has contributed to the discussion.
A Florida middle school teacher was suspended for posting on Facebook that he hated his students and his job. Now the Manatee County School District is considering a policy that would limit what teachers say on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The policy would prohibit teachers from posting comments that could put the district, teachers or students in a “negative, scandalous or embarrassing light.”
In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District. This was a free speech case involving the symbolic wearing of black armbands to school as a silent protest of the Vietnam War. In upholding a student’s right to expression, the Court stated “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” (emphasis added)
The Tinker decision established the standard in free speech cases. The school may limit speech when there is a reasonable likelihood that it would substantially disrupt the school environment or violate the rights of another to be secure and left alone.
If the Florida policy is challenged, the Tinker standard would likely be the basis of the court’s decision. What do you think of this limitation on a teacher’s right to speak? Should teachers be told by their school what they can and can’t say online? Does it make a difference if the teacher is at home on a personal computer and not the school’s? Who determines what is “negative or scandalous?” How do you define and characterize a comment that’s “embarrassing?”