June 22, 2021

Mark Walsh: If Critical Race Theory Is Banned, Are Teachers Protected by the First Amendment?

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It’s a big question as laws banning Critical Race Theory (or some version of it, or what some people imagine it might be) sweep across the nation. Will the First Amendment protect teachers in the classroom? <ark Walsh looks at the question in this piece for Education Week. 

While it’s too early for any of the new laws to have been challenged, the wave of legislation has teachers wondering how much leeway they have to veer from approved curricula or to address issues proscribed by state laws.

The blunt answer: While K-12 teachers retain some protections for their comments on issues of public concern, they don’t have much in the way of academic freedom to veer from the curriculum or infuse their own experiences and views into the classroom.

“I am reluctant to come to this conclusion, but in the K-12 sector, teachers do not really have any academic freedom,” said Richard Fossey, a recently retired professor who taught education law at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and has co-written several journal articles on the topic.

Suzanne Eckes, an education professor at Indiana University-Bloomington who has also written about the issue, said that under a series of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal courts of appeals, K-12 teachers do not have the type of academic freedom that courts have recognized for college professors.

“You don’t have a lot of leeway,” Eckes said she tells teachers. “If a teacher called me and said, ‘I want to teach the 1619 Project or about the Tulsa race massacre but my supervisor has advised me not to,’ I would sympathize with them, but would add that they could get in trouble for teaching those concepts.”

Read the full piece here.

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