A teacher’s in-class curriculum in primary and secondary schools is not protected by the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.
“Only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the classroom, legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom,” writes the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in its decision (.pdf).
The decision came in a case where an Ohio teacher, Shelley Evans-Marshall, did not have her contract renewed after numerous parents complained about reading selections she assigned to her high school English classes.
Evans-Marshall, who taught English to 9th and 11th grade students and a creative writing course to 11th and 12th grade students, distributed a list of banned books to students in her 9th grade class. The students were required to form groups, pick a book from the list, examine the reasons the book has been banned, and lead an in-class debate about the book. Two groups in Evans-Marshall’s class chose Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, a children’s book about a girl with two lesbian parents.
Some of the parents of the students in Evans-Marshall’s class complained about Heather Has Two Mommies and Evans-Marshall was told by the principal to have the students choose another book. She complied with the principal’s request, noting her students had “actually experienced censorship in preparing to debate censorship.”
After completing the banned books assignment, Evans-Marshall had her class read Siddhartha by the German author Hermann Hesse. The book, about the spiritual journey of a young man in India during the times of the Buddha, contains descriptions of sex and has references to the Kamasutra.
At a meeting of the school board in October of 2001, about twenty-five parents complained about the curricular choices made by Evans-Marshall. At a subsequent meeting in November, nearly one hundred parents complained about her curriculum.
“You should be embarrassed,” one parent told the school board in regards to the sexual themes found in Siddhartha.
In 2002, the school board voted unanimously not to renew Evans-Marshall’s contract, claiming she had problems “with communication and teamwork.”
A year later, Evans-Marshall filed suit against the school board, alleging the board retaliated against her “curricular and pedagogical choices” by refusing to renew her contract.
“When Evans-Marshall taught 9th grade English, she did something she was hired (and paid) to do, something she could not have done but for the Board’s decision to hire her as a public school teacher,” said the court. “As with any other individual in the community, she had no more free-speech right to dictate the school’s curriculum than she had to obtain a platform—a teaching position—in the first instance for communicating her preferred list of books and teaching methods.”
The court affirmed Evans-Marshall’s right to discuss matters of public concern and concluded that her exercise of free speech rights was “a motivating factor” behind the school board’s decision to not renew her contract.
“That large segments of the community disagreed with Evans-Marshall’s speech—her class assignments and teaching methods—is beside the point,” said the court. “The question is whether the topics discussed are “of . . . concern” to the community not whether the community approved of the teacher’s position on each topic.”
But, “pursuant to [her] official duties” as a teacher at a public school, the court ruled that Evans-Marshall was “not speaking as [a citizen] for First Amendment purposes.”
“As Evans-Marshall does not dispute, she made her curricular and pedagogical choices in connection with her official duties as a teacher.”
“The Constitution does not prohibit a State from creating elected school boards and from placing responsibility for the curriculum of each school district in the hands of each board.”
Pennsylvania AG warns Trump campaign poll watchers to stop videotaping voters
On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that the attorney general of Pennsylvania is warning Trump campaign surrogates to stop videotaping voters dropping off mail-in ballots.
"In a statement, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic state attorney general, said, 'Pennsylvania law permits poll watchers to carry out very discrete and specific duties — videotaping voters at drop boxes is not one of them,'" reported Blake Montgomery.
"The campaign has filed complaints with Philadelphia officials based on the videos, alleging fraud on the part of several voters who submitted two or three ballots, according to The New York Times," continued the report. "The Trump campaign initially said the purpose of the videotaping was to catch voters who dropped off a large number of fraudulent ballots rather than one or two, according to the Times."
WATCH: CNN’s Blitzer corners Trump’s chief of staff for trying to downplay COVID failures
On CNN Thursday, anchor Wolf Blitzer confronted President Donald Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows about his failure to follow public health guidelines and demonstrate leadership in the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A study from Columbia University ... found that anywhere from 130,000 to 210,000 lives potentially could have been saved over these past eight, nine, ten months with a more robust federal response," said Blitzer. "Why did the president say just this week when he was asked what he would have done differently, he said not much?"
"Well, I can tell you that if your study says that they can save 210,000 lives, I haven't read it, but it would be very difficult to imagine that scenario ... I don't know that any scientist or any doctor would agree with that particular analysis," said Meadows. "What we have here is a clock that keeps talking about the number of cases that we have. It really doesn't talk about the advances that we need to make on the therapeutics, vaccines and treatment side of things."
GOP candidate attacks opponent with racist website about his adviser working for ‘non-white males’
The 2020 campaign cycle continues to get uglier with a North Carolina Republican making explicitly racist attacks on his Democratic Party opponent.
"Anew attack website put up by the Madison Cawthorn campaign includes an explicitly racist broadside against his opponent, Moe Davis (D-NC), for associating himself with people who want to 'ruin white males.' For real," Tim Miller of The Bulwark reported Thursday.
"The website, MoeTaxes.com takes aim at Davis over one of his advisors Tom Fielder. It says that Fielder 'quit his academia job in Boston to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker who aims to ruin white males.' Putting the atrocious syntax aside… Quitting one’s job to work for someone who isn’t white is . . . a problem now? Booker’s blackness is the issue that offends you?" Miller asked. "In Donald Trump’s white grievance party, apparently so."