Friday, June 22, 2018
Opinion

Teachers under the morality microscope

In February, a Philadelphia high school teacher was suspended because of a posting to her blog in which she complained that her students sometimes acted like "rude, disengaged, lazy whiners." In May, a Florida high school football coach was fired for sending explicit pictures to his 20-year-old girlfriend. She was not a student. In August, a Florida high school's "Teacher of the Year" was fired for writing on Facebook outside school hours that he considered gay marriage to be a sin and same-sex unions a "cesspool."

Most citizens view the end of work each day as a clear line in dividing their responsibilities to an employer from their rights as an individual. While at work, we accept that we must comply with work-related expectations and policies. But when the whistle blows, we consider ourselves our own masters — pursuing recreation or even legal vices as we see fit.

Increasingly, however, public school teachers are being fired or suspended for perfectly lawful activities during off-work hours when those activities are deemed inappropriate by parents or school officials.

Consider a few other such cases in the last few years:

In Pennsylvania in 2010, an unidentified teacher was suspended after a third party posted a picture on Facebook showing her with a male stripper at a bridal shower.

In Georgia in 2011, teacher Ashley Payne lost a court case challenging her forced resignation in 2009. Her departure came after a parent objected to a photo she posted to Facebook showing her holding a drink while on vacation in Europe. School officials said the posting "promoted alcohol use."

In 2009, Wisconsin teacher Betsy Ramsdale was put on leave for posting a picture of herself looking down the sight of a rifle on her Facebook site.

All of these cases involved completely lawful conduct by teachers outside of school hours. So why did they suffer consequences? As a school board member put it in the case of the Pennsylvania teacher suspended for the bridal party picture, "Everybody has a right to do what they want on their own time, but once kids and parents see it on the Internet, it becomes the school district's problem." The trouble with that reasoning is that it allows teachers to enjoy the same basic rights as other citizens only so long as they don't enjoy them in public.

We demand a great deal of our public school teachers. They put in long hours in overcrowded classrooms, and yet they receive lower salaries than people in other professions requiring similar education levels.

For this sacrifice, we now demand that they live their lives according to a morality standard set to satisfy the lowest common denominator of parental sensibilities. They live under the transparent conditions of celebrities without any of the benefits, with parental paparazzi eager to catch them in an unguarded moment. They deserve better.

Jonathan Turley is a professor of public interest law at George Washington University.

© 2012 Los Angeles Times

Comments
Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

It’s hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bay’s two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. That’s the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney general’s misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect — prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18