Thursday, October 23, 2008

Public School System Squandering Political Discussion?

My mother, who works at a local elementary school, recently got this email for the principal, that was was sent to her by the school's super intendant:


We recently received a parent complaint of a teacher expressing support for a Presidential candidate to students during class.  With Election Day just around the corner, I want to remind you that such activity is not permitted. 


School Board Policy 8.07(3)(b) prohibits employees from engaging in political activities on District property during duty hours.  In the case of teachers and other instructional personnel, this policy prohibits statements to students expressing support or preference for a political candidate or political party.  The policy does not prohibit faculty from discussing politics in the teacher lounge during break or off duty hours.  Nor does the policy prohibit instruction of students on the political process as part of the school curriculum. 


Please bring this reminder to the attention of your instructional staff.  Thank you for your assistance in helping to maintain an educational environment free of potential coercion and influence of students.


Thank you,


Julie M. Janssen, Ed. D.


This email was followed up with this: 

Based upon our policies, established legal principles, and past practices within the district, we offer the following general advice to these fact scenarios, with the caveat that each specific incident should be viewed on a case-by-case basis for a final definitive answer:

Q1 -- May an employee park on school property with a standard sized political bumper sticker on her/his car?
A1 -- Yes.  Bumper stickers are small in size and ubiquitous in our society, and thus usually ignored.  Once applied, they are difficult to remove, which would make it difficult to enforce a ban on their display.  In the end, they are de minimus and leave no impression of official endorsement by the district.

Q2 -- May an employee park on school property with a clearly visible car magnet or sign on or in the employee's car? w

Q3 -- May a school-based employee wear, during duty hours, clothing (assuming it is not in violation of dress guidelines) saying "Vote for XYZ"  or some other message reasonably calculated to advocate for a candidate?
A3 -- No.  This is not allowable because, as in Q2, the employee is now engaging in political advertisement and campaigning during duty hours in violation of Board policy. 

Q4 -- May a school-based employee wear, during duty hours, a political button saying "Vote for XYZ"  or some other message reasonably calculated to advocate for a candidate?
A4 -- No, same as A3.

Q5 -- May an employee at a site not housing students wear, during duty hours, political clothing or political buttons?
A5 -- No.  Even though the employee is not in the presence of students, the employee is still engaging in political activities during duty hours in violation of Board policy.  The presence of students aggravates the situation because the authority of the employee engaging in such activities may tend to exert undue influence over the students.


Now I ask you. What the HELL? Why would we be discouraging the idea of children learning about the political happenings in our country? I understand that Freedom Of Speech can't exist in its pure form in schools, but in no way should they be taking away the right of someone to make a political stance? Among adults, especially. I guess I can understand, to an extent, the School Board not wanting teachers and other school employees "campaigning" for a candidate in the class room, but banning the discussion of the election among full grown adults? That's insane. 

Also, showing support for a candidate isn't "campaigning." Telling employees their cars can't have bumper stickers or flags showing support for a candidate is ridiculous. 

I want to know what the school board is thinking with all these policies. Honestly, it seems like a very light form of fascism to me. Controlling what can and cannot be said about a subject that's is shouldn't make people mad, but is inherently offensive because people are stupid. 

Blah, things like this just make me sick.

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