College: Radiation therapy is no place for the religious

When Brandon Jenkins was interviewed for a spot in the radiation therapy program at Community College of Baltimore County, he was asked what’s most important to him. He said, “My God.”

“This field is not the place for religion,” wrote program director Adrienne Dougherty in an email explaining his rejection. Now — surprise! — Jenkins has filed a First Amendment lawsuit charging he was rejected because he expressed his religious beliefs.

Speech-zone suit costs college $50,000

California’s Modesto Junior College has agreed to drop its “free speech zone” and pay $50,000 to settle a First Amendment lawsuit. Robert Van Tuinen, an Army veteran turned photography student, was prevented from passing out copies of the Constitution on campus.

When the teacher is wrong — and a bully

It’s illegal to disrespect the president, a North Carolina high school teacher told a student in an audiotape that turned up on YouTube. The social studies teacher raised the Washington Post story charging Romney bullied a high school classmate with long hair, reports the Salisbury Post.  A student responded that Obama has admitted bullying a girl in school.  (In Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that he pushed down an unpopular black girl in — I think it was sixth grade — after he was teased about her being his “girlfriend.”)

“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” (the teacher) says. Romney, she says, is “running for president. Obama is the president.”

When the student says they’re both “just men,” the teacher continues to argue that Romney, as a candidate for president, is not to be afforded the same respect as the president.

The teacher tells the class Obama is “due the respect that every other president is due.”

“Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” she says.

. . . Later in the conversation, the teacher tells the class it’s criminal to slander a president.

“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?”

The student responds by saying being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech.

“You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion. … They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.”

The student is correct, of course. The teacher is . . . Sadly misinformed and a bit of a bully.

Evans-Marshall and the canons of the profession

In October 2010, a Sixth Circuit panel decided that a teacher’s curricular and pedagogical choices are not protected by the First Amendment (Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of the Tipp City Exempted Village School District). The panel cited several precedents, including Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006). There was a lively discussion of the case on this blog last fall; I find it worth revisiting because of the Garcetti question. In particular, Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissenting opinion in Garcetti deserves attention, as it brings up the idea of the “canons of the profession.”

To sum up the Evans-Marshall case: the dispute began in 2001, when a group of angry parents in Tipp City, Ohio, protested teacher Shelley Evans Marshall’s book selections and teaching methods. Marshall had taught Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and followed this with a project on censorship. She divided the students into groups and had each group investigate a book from the American Library Association’s list of “100 Most Challenged Books.” Two groups chose Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman; when parents complained, the principal asked Marshall to assign a different book. Marshall complied, explaining to the class that this very experience would serve as source material on censorship.

When this unit was completed, Evans-Marshall assigned Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and held class discussions about “spirituality, Buddhism, romantic relationships, personal growth, [and] familial relationships.” Although the school board had purchased the copies of Siddhartha, it had not explicitly included Siddhartha in the curriculum. Parents complained about this and other choices that Evans-Marshall had made; they found the explicit language in Siddhartha offensive. Parents presented the school board with a 500-signature petition calling for “decency and excellence” in the classroom. [Read more...]

Student told not to fly U.S. flag

On the eve of Veteran’s Day, a California eighth-grader was told not to fly the U.S. flag on his bicycle because Mexican-American students objected.  It was for his own safety, said Denair Superintendent Edward Parraz.

“(The) First Amendment is important,” Parraz said. “We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsibility.”

Parraz said racial tensions boiled over at the school this year around the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

“Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they’ll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don’t really want,” Parraz said. “We want them to appreciate the cultures.”

Cody Alicea, 13, has been riding to school with the flag since the start of the school year. He folds it — correctly — and puts it in his backpack when he gets to campus.

Once the story got to TV, the superintendent said Cody can fly the flag.

Court rejects teacher’s free-speech claim

Teachers don’t have free-speech rights when it comes to curriculum, a federal appeals court ruled this week.  The case involved a high school English teacher in Tipp City, Ohio who was criticized by parents for assigning Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and for letting ninth graders read Heather Has Two Mommies in a unit on censorship. Then she was fired. From Ed Week’s School Law Blog:

Despite positive performance reviews before the controversy, the principal’s evaluations afterwards criticized (Shelley) Evans-Marshall’s attitude and demeanor and her “use of material that is pushing the limits of community standards.” The school board in March 2002 decided not to renew her contract, citing “problems with communications and teamwork.”

Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, who wrote the opinion, said the teacher had been “shabbily” treated, but had no right to set her own curriculum.

“When a teacher teaches, the school system does not regulate that speech as much as it hires that speech,” Sutton wrote, borrowing language from a 7th Circuit decision in a similar case. “Expression is a teacher’s stock in trade, the commodity she sells to her employer in exchange for a salary. And if it is the school board that hires that speech, it can surely regulate the content of what is or is not expressed, what is expressed in other words on its behalf.”

The employer’s needs limit what people can say on the job. You can’t tell off the obnoxious customer and expect to stay employed. Still, I wonder if that censorship unit was part of the school’s curriculum. How do you teach about censorship without reading any controversial books?

Liberty High bans taped-mouth protest

When is a silent protest too “distracting” for school? asks Greg at Rhymes With Right.

At the ironically named Liberty High in Virginia, administrators told students they couldn’t tape their mouths shut to protest abortion because it was a distraction.

In Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court said students had a First Amendment right to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. Greg asks:

Now tell me, how does tape over the mouth in any way rise to the standard set in this case — “substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others” — in light of the fact that the tape would be in no way more disruptive than the black armbands in Tinker?

This seems like a fairly clear violation of Tinker. It’s not uncommon for student protesters to tape their mouths. On the annual Day of Silence to protest harassment of gays, students often duct-tape their mouths.

Teen asserts religious right to nose ring

Suspended from her North Carolina high school for violating the dress code, Ariana Iacono, 14, says her nose ring is a religious symbol and therefore constitutionally protected.

“I think it’s kind of stupid for them to kick me out of school for a nose piercing,” she said. “It’s in the First Amendment for me to have freedom of religion.”

Ariana and her mother, Nikki, 32, belong to the Church of Body Modification, which actually exists.

Richard Ivey, the Iaconos’ Raleigh-based minister in the church, believes it’s a case of officials dismissing something unfamiliar.

. . . Ivey describes the church as a non-theistic faith that draws people who see tattoos, piercings and other physical alterations as ways of experiencing the divine.

School policy provides for dress-code exemptions based on religious faith, so the Iaconos are bound to prevail.