Q. It's important for parents to know what the legal rights of
educators are, just like it's important to know your own rights and those of
your child while in school. What are the legal protections and privileges of
They're too numerous to list. There are laws
and court cases guiding consequences of teacher actions from everything from discipline
infractions to sexual harassment claims, dress code violations to alleged possession
of alcohol on school grounds.
Teachers' unions and professional associations
do a good job of instructing educators on what their legal rights are. You
could ask for a copy of their brochures or look on their websites for more
information. A good school district will have clear policies to guard against
violations of the constitutional and other legal rights of teachers, and
parents should have access to that information, too.
In general, the rules of thumb for teachers to
avoid getting into legal trouble include:
Don't touch a student, or if you have to, to
teach a lesson or in coaching, then ask his or her permission first, and of
course keep your contact on the non-controversial parts of the body;
Don't ever be alone with a student, or if you
are in a classroom or office with just one student, make sure to keep the door
wide open and sit where you can be seen from the open door. Don't give rides,
don't take students home, don't go to the swimming pool with them in the summer
. . . just don't go there.
Don't write personal notes or emails to a student,
and don't joke with him or her. It's far too easy that anything you say or
write could possibly be misconstrued.
Don't handle student money, or if you have to,
do not run money through your own accounts; keep good documentation and
receipts, and lock any cash or credit cards you ever have in school.
a brief listing of other legal rights of teachers:
Union Membership Not
In no state can a
teacher be forced to be a union member. In "right to work" states, teachers
can't even be forced to pay a dime for union representation if they choose not
to pay dues. However, in the northeast third of the country, and in the western
states of Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and New Mexico, teachers who
choose not to join the union and pay dues still can be forced to pay the
pro-rated costs of collective bargaining, union contract administration and
grievance adjustment. See the U.S. Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 1977.
Teacher Speech and
In the 1952 Supreme
Court case, Adler v. Board of Education, a principle of protection for
children was established in that joining Communist organizations advocating the
overthrow of the government by force, violence or law-breaking could be grounds
for disqualification of a teacher's employment. That doesn't violate a
teacher's free-speech rights, since they are still free to say what they think
and associate with whom they please OUTSIDE of a school job. Since teachers are
influencing other people's children in a government-sponsored situation, the
court ruled that they couldn't be allowed to advocate treason and violence to a
vulnerable captive audience of children.
Job Protection For Proper Exercise of Free-Speech Rights
On the other hand, under another Supreme Court
case, Pickering v. Board of Education (1968), it was ruled that a teacher couldn't be fired for writing a
letter to the editor criticizing the school board and superintendent for
money-raising and handling activities, even though some of what he claimed was
later proven wrong. The money-handling data was a matter of public record, and
the teacher was communicating in a public forum - the local newspaper - so
teachers were judged to have the same free-speech rights (and responsibilities)
as any other taxpayer.
Homework: For more about teachers'
rights, especially with regard to the Christian teacher in the public-school
setting, see the article bank from the Christian Educators Association