February 24, 2011

Teacher treated like an elementary school kid?

Teacher Hope Moffett spoke out against plans to turn her school into a charter school, and she was sent to what's colloquially known as the district's "teacher jail":

Moffett faces an "investigatory conference" today after she openly criticized the district's plan to convert Audenried, at 33rd and Tasker streets, in Grays Ferry, into a charter school as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative to turn underachieving schools around.

Moffett said she was first told that she was in trouble for "inciting a riot" after students protested last week, and that the district ordered her in a letter last Thursday "not to discuss this matter.".

"Failure to follow this directive will result in disciplinary action," the letter said.

Moffett hasn't stopped speaking her mind, however, including writing an opinion in Tuesday's Daily News, signed by six other Audenried teachers, outlining why community members and many staffers believe that the changes are unfair.

"There's an attempt to silence anyone who asks a question, and that's not healthy for the district," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "Teachers should be able to question what is going on. It's her personal business, and if she chooses to say something, then that's her constitutional right."

It's a touchy matter, to be sure. As a public employee, a teacher does have greater flexibility when it comes to First Amendment protections than a private sector counterpart. And, I certainly wouldn't base an opinion on the Daily News's report alone. Failure to follow an administration edict can result in insubordination charges, which, in this case, means Moffett was sent to the "teacher jail." It doesn't say what subject Moffett teaches, so if she was discussing school district planning matters in, say, algebra class, the district can [legitimately] claim she wasn't doing her job. On the other hand, if she teaches English or civics, she might have a lot of leeway to discuss the subject, despite what the district actually desires. I'm sure there's enough of a gray area in various law to take both sides here.

Still, a "teacher jail??" There isn't a more ... grown-up alternative? How cheesy is that?

Posted by Hube at February 24, 2011 08:15 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.)

Actually, there is a distinct possibility that the district is within its rights under the Supreme Court's Garcetti decision, which held that public employee speech pursuant to their position as a public employee does not have First Amendment protection, and that the employer may therefore discipline (or even terminate) an employee who engages in such speech.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at February 24, 2011 11:29 PM

Obviously these students were going about their protest in a very peaceful manner and the earlier reports mentioned that after they had had their chance to speak with district representa tives, they went back to class saying that they needed to also show that they were good students. No riot, no violence, not what many people might expect from students at an inner city school in a neighborhood with a 'reputation'. These students will become adults that have ethics and will work towards a better ideal. What more could we ask for. What I think is the worst tragedy is that these students' academic merit will be judged on tests they will be taking soon. Tests where other students at other schools have dedicated teachers like Hope helping them prepare while these have a district substitute who probably means well but cannot give these students the targeted and differenti ated instructio n they need. The students are the ones who are suffering through the districts' actions. They care about their teacher and I am sure that this is way more distractin g to them than organizing a protest.

Posted by: ACourt at February 25, 2011 06:09 AM

@Rhymes With Right

Actually the Court has made clear that public employees do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment. Rather, the First Amendment protects a public employee's right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing matters of public concern. See, e. g., Pickering, supra, at 568; Connick, supra, at 147; Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U. S. 378, 384 (1987); United States v. Treasury Employees, 513 U. S. 454, 466 (1995).
Hope Moffett was disciplined for speaking out on an issue of public concern--the issue of whether her school should be remain a public school or be turned over to privite profiteers and become a charter school.

Posted by: MA at March 3, 2011 09:50 PM