February 17, 2010

A couple education notes

Via Education Week: Court Backs Student on Facebook Page Criticizing Teacher.

The case involves Katherine Evans, who was a senior at Pembrook Pines Charter High School in Florida in 2007 when she created a group on Facebook called, "Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever met."

"To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred," Evans wrote on the page, which she created on her home computer.

Peter Bayer, the principal of Pembroke Pines High, suspended Evans for three days and removed her from her Advanced Placement classes for violating the school's rules against "cyberbullying" and "harassment" of a staff member, according to court documents.

Evans sued the principal in his individual capacity, alleging that her First Amendment free speech and 14th Amendment due process rights were violated.

In a Feb. 12 ruling in Bayer v. Evans, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry L. Garber of Miami declined Evans's request for an injunction barring the principal from keeping the student's discipline in school records. But the judge denied qualified immunity for Bayer, holding that Evans's speech was protected under the First Amendment and that the principal should have known he was violating a clearly established right by disciplining Evans.

There must be an indication that the speech at issue disrupted the work and discipline of the school, or will disrupt school in the future, for the discipline to be upheld, the judge said, and there was no indication in the record before him that Evans' Facebook group critical of a teacher disrupted school.

I would concur with this ruling. The last paragraph is key, and I think courts have been fairly consistent with rulings of this nature -- that the "disruption of the educational environment" has to be established before any sort of speech restrictions would be warranted. Keep in mind, too, sites like RateMyTeachers.com which give an open forum for any student to criticize any teacher for reasons as silly as "makes you throw out your gum." If the court found for this principal, then sites like "Rate" would have to be shut down too, right -- if any teacher complained (or principal objected)?

Sorry, but teachers aren't immune from criticism just no one else is, even that of their own students.

Elsewhere, some members of the Seattle Education Association have been suspended for violating their district's directives:

In 2007, we were told to administer the Washington Alternate Assessment System to our students in grades 3-5, and we did. It took nearly three months because the test had to be given a little at a time, to each student individually. Meanwhile, our other six children were with our assistants.

Although the test was modified, it measured our students achievement against grade level standards. Because our students are cognitively at ages six months to two years, the assessment was not at their level. It had nothing to do with the goals and objectives designed for them.

Our goal might be to teach them to hold a spoon or recognize their name in print, and the test covered fractions. In fact, one student would start crying every time we got to the part on fractions.

So last year, we described the test to the parents. They said it was ridiculous. One said, ďIf I had known you were doing this, I would have told you to stop.Ē Another said, ďIím sick of tests that tell what my child canít do. I want to see what he can do.Ē

We did our own research and found that parents do have a right to refuse state assessments. Since the parents had expressed their opinions to us, we thought this was all that was needed. So we didnít give the test.

The way the district sees it, we were given a directive and didnít follow it. The reason why held little significance to them.

My emphasis above -- and therein lies the problem: These teachers took it upon themselves to determine what was "right" in this case (not giving the test) -- for a state assessment that their district must give. It's an easy call, really, despite how sympathetic I (or others) may be to these teachers' cause. They "thought this was all that was needed." Did they not bother to check with their school administration, let alone district highers-up? In their own words, no. Many districts have in-house lawyers, or contract out to one when needed; an opinion on the matter could have asked of him/her, could it not?

Hey, administrators, school or district level, are far from infallible. But teachers are employees who, like those in other careers, have to follow a chain of command and get approval for many things (like this) from those above them. If you decide to take it upon yourself to "make the call" on something of this import (or controversy), then you'd best be prepared to face the consequences.

Posted by Hube at February 17, 2010 05:51 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I completely agree, thanks for sharing this. People seem to think that because they have a position of power they can take away Constitutional rights...

Posted by: Angel Clark at February 17, 2010 07:48 PM

As i commented over at my place, there is no way that the principal would have been able to claim that such comments made at a party at a student's home on a Saturday night were within the scope of the school to punish. How, then, does the medium of expression change the scope of the school's authority?

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at February 17, 2010 10:41 PM

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