There was once a time that, unless a teacher was a close family friend, we knew nothing of their private lives. We didn’t know what they did in their personal time, what they said when they were with their friends, or their political beliefs.
That has changed with the introduction of social media. Many educators have various accounts where they can share photos and information with friends and families. However, some teachers have lost their jobs due to their online activity.
The First Amendment
Many people do not completely understand the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They believe that free speech applies to whatever they state on social media. Actually, it protects them from government censorship. It generally does not apply to private employers. If they feel you posted something they find inappropriate or damaging, you can be fired, and it probably wouldn’t be an infringement on your constitutional rights.
But what about teachers employed by a public school system? The Texas Education Agency oversees public schools in Texas, and they could be considered a government entity. Therefore, shouldn’t a teacher’s conduct on social media be protected by the First Amendment? Not necessarily. Freedom of speech is not absolute in public employment, including teachers.
Most teachers recognize that using social media to communicate inappropriately with students or to share confidential information would be grounds for termination. The situation is not so clear when it comes to a teacher sharing their political beliefs or commenting on current social issues.
Texas’ Educator’s Law of Ethics states that a teacher should exhibit personal integrity, honesty and good moral character. They also have a duty to protect the safety and welfare of Texas schoolchildren.
The courts need to balance the rights of the teacher, as a citizen, to comment upon matters of public concern and the interest of Texas, as their employer,
This is a complex and evolving area of education law. Furthermore, the interpretation of Texas’ laws regarding teacher conduct may vary depending on the school district. Therefore, if a teacher is terminated due to their online activity, they need to discuss their situation with someone to determine if their firing was unlawful.