The First Amendment protects all citizens of the United States by limiting the government’s ability to abridge freedom of speech. However, when the government is also a person’s employer things can become a bit more complicated. The following are some resources and guidelines to keep in mind when engaging in political activity.
When performing job duties such as classroom instruction, transporting students, communicating with parents, coaching, etc., it is important to be aware that your conduct is considered as a representation of your employer. As such, these and other activities do not receive the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by the average citizen.
There are two resources that provide helpful guidance to those employed and licensed to work at Pre-K – 12 public education agencies. The first is the Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Educators, which can be found here: https://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Teaching/Professional-Conduct/Licensure-Code-of-Professional-Conduct. The second is locally adopted school board policies, which are often found on individual district websites and can also be requested directly from the local Board of Education. While the Code of Conduct and adopted board policies mainly apply to the performance of professional tasks or when representing the employer within the community, it is important to remember that some expectations extend beyond the regular workday and workplace.
Social Media: Social media is about being social. Something may be shared with friends, or with privacy settings cranked to the max, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t be shared beyond the intended audience without your knowledge and consent.
- A good guideline for social media use is to always assume what is posted, liked, shared, or uploaded can be seen by everyone in the community. Keep your professional life separate from your personal (and political) life.
- Don’t engage individuals who just want to argue, abuse, or name call. Block, unfriend, or even find a better platform for more meaningful dialogue.
- Avoid using social media when frustrated and/or angry. It may seem like the perfect outlet for stress, but failure to consider your choice of words and content can have negative employment consequences.
Technology: Technology is paid for through public dollars and provided to public employees to assist them in their professional duties. Using the employer’s devices, Internet connection, software and/or platform for non-business-related purposes can result in discipline and termination.
- Don’t use employer technology to access personal accounts, including social media, to engage in political activism. Make sure you have read and understand the acceptable use policy (AUP).
- Don’t expose, present, or fail to prevent students from accessing inappropriate material. Not sure what counts as inappropriate? Check your employing board or campus adopted policies.
Engaging with Students, Colleagues, and the Community on Political Issues
As public education employees, most of your day is spent with students, colleagues, and community members.
Friendships, familiarity, and acquaintances are developed within the work environment. For Pre-K – 12 employees:
- Don’t offer your political views to students or use one’s position to proselytize personal political beliefs.
- Always make sure content, resources, and topics for instruction are developmentally appropriate and clearly connect to the academic standards for the grade level and topic.
- If asked, don’t feel you must share your personal political beliefs. Reinforce they are personal and not connected to the day’s learning. For some, their motivation may be to goad, distract and/or cause trouble for the employee.
- Even when communicating with adults, never use technology or make comments which share obscene material, promotion of violence, disparagement of students, or disparagement based upon gender, gender identity, race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, military status, or religion.
Reference: Principle 9 Appropriate and Responsible Use of Technology Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Educators
Also remember, if you are facing discipline, immediately contact your union representative, officer or OEA Labor Relations Consultant (LRC) before participating in any proceedings related to the accusation. Please see the Weingarten Rights page for more information on your rights during investigatory interviews: https://www.ohea.org/member-center/weingarten-rights/.