During my orientation for "new" teachers the district's lawyer gave a PowerPoint on legal issues for teachers. Most of it centered on mandatory reporting issues for students at risk, most of which was not new to me. But she also mentioned how it would be deemed inappropriate for a teacher to blog disparagingly about their students or colleagues.
This got my antennae up. I asked her afterwards about the grey area in such matters. We're a long way from the days when a teacher could be dismissed for interracial dating or for being gay (in some states, anyway). Obviously I'd be protected if I wrote a letter to the editor about educational policy, and if I blog about education issues or philosophy, I should expect the same rights.
But there's a grey area in between, and I wanted to know more about where the borders are. Her reply was that it would take an hour to answer my question and she didn't have an hour. But she advised me to simply stay out of the grey area, and to do a google on, say, "first amendment teachers rights" and see what comes up. At the top of the results, as you can see, is the website for "First Amendment Schools," a resource for both students and teachers, which I immediately bookmarked.
As if on cue, driving to work the next morning I heard a report on NPR about a teacher who had been suspended for... blogging disparagingly about her students or colleagues. The anchor seemed to think it amusing that she had been "sentenced" to going back and teaching those same students. And according to the account on HuffPo, she's mulling over whether to return.
It looks to me like her comments truly were inappropriate, and though she was blogging with the expectation of anonymity, that expectation was unrealistic in this day and age. Those are the kinds of things you wouldn't say over a restaurant dinner, either, because you never know who might be in the next booth. And it's nothing that I would ever blog about, since I'm concerned with policy, which one would hope is at the other end of the spectrum. But note that her completely tactless comments were protected enough that she was reinstated.
On the other hand, First Amendment rights for students have generally been found by the courts to have fewer protections and more restrictions. There's a grey area there too, but this cyberbullying case clearly falls on the wrong side of that, an issue to which we shall no doubt return.
In the meantime, there is so much fertile ground to plow in the protected area of the sliding scale that there's barely enough time to discuss it all. Case in point: gotta get to work.