Then a local teacher published an opinion piece that seemed to be defending the school district on some of the issues I raised. When I invited him to discuss those issues at more length on this blog, though, he let me know that he wasn’t really intending to take a position on what school policies should be, but merely to say that teachers should not be criticized for policies that they don’t have any say over. I agree with him about that, and I understand why he wouldn’t want to get involved in publicly debating the district’s policy. But I also think it’s a shame if teachers in the system feel free to publish only the most uncontroversial opinions, when their contributions on more debatable issues would actually be very valuable.
Today, someone posted the following comment in response to that teacher’s piece:
Amazing comments.Set aside for the moment the question of whether district-wide PBIS is a good policy. (I happen to think that it’s a bad policy policy for any set of kids, including those who aren’t already well-behaved, but I’ve explained my reasons elsewhere.) Is there any excuse for an administrator telling a teacher to “be quiet” when the teacher thinks a district policy is bad for the kids? If that report is true, how is it not a scandal? How is it not a betrayal of the kids?
As a teacher with more than 30 years in the ICCSD, I can say that the teachers I know dislike PBS (knowmn as “PBIS” in some schools)
However, because of the unruliness in an increasing number of students who have not been taught the basics of socially acceptable behavior, the PBS system is being implemented on a district-wide basis. This decision has been made at the expense of the majority of the students, in my opinion.
Until the ICCSD allows the individual schools to handle discipline in a realistic manner instead of a “one size fits all achools” model, the majority of students will be subjected to this policy that is a total waste of time and resources.
If the public wants to make a difference, show up at School Board meetings and state your opinion.
The teachers I know who have protested this approach have been told by their administrators to be quiet.
Of course teachers are going to be reluctant to contribute to debate about school policies if they’re worried about how their employer might react. In fact, public employees have a constitutional right to speak on matters of public concern, and it would be great if they took advantage of it. Unfortunately, the courts have muddied the contours of that right to the point where speech is obviously going to be chilled. You can read more about the right of public employees to engage in free speech here. (Notice, for example, point number 9.) The inspiring message for public employees: Yes, if you speak out on a matter of public concern, you might win the lawsuit that you bring after you’re fired! When that’s the good news, who needs the bad news?
But we don’t need a constitutional amendment to address this problem. Nor can this problem, like so many others, be blamed on federal or state mandates. On this issue, the buck stops with our superintendent and our school board, period. Do they believe that free and open debate produces better policies -- and thus is better for the kids -- or don’t they?
If they do, they have the power to do something about it. They can encourage teachers to speak out publicly on school policy issues. They can instruct school principals to encourage teachers to speak out. They can actively solicit public comment from teachers on school policy issues. They can discipline administrators who discourage teachers or parents from speaking up. They can enact policies providing teachers with more generous legal protection against retaliation than the courts have provided, and incorporate greater protection for speech into teacher contracts. Is there any reason why they should not do those things? How can they possibly expect to reach good policy decisions when the people closest to the kids -- parents and teachers -- are worried about the consequences of speaking up?
If our school officials aren’t furious about the possibility that teachers are being told to “be quiet” about matters of public concern, I’d sure like to know why. These are the people who are someday going to teach my kids about the purpose and value of the First Amendment? When they do, what are they going to say?
Follow-up post: Debate or Groupthink? An exchange with a school board member