Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Teachers Can Wear Political Buttons on Back-to-School Night—Lockyer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A school district cannot prohibit teachers from wearing political buttons on Back-to-School Night, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in an opinion released yesterday.
“In contrast to the authority of district officials to prohibit the wearing of political buttons when the teachers are in their classrooms instructing their students…we conclude that such a prohibition with respect to Back-to-School Night would be unconstitutional,” the attorney general wrote.
Lockyer acknowledged that Education Code Sec. 7055 permits a school district to restrict employees’ political activities during working hours or while on school premises. But a restriction that extends to Back-to-School Night would violate the First Amendment, the attorney general said.
The First Amendment gives school officials latitude to restrict teachers’ speech which “might be considered as coming from the school district itself,” Lockyer said.
He cited a Court of Appeal case allowing districts to prohibit teachers’ wearing of buttons in class, but not elsewhere, as well as last year’s Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that barred a teacher from posting anti-gay materials on a bulletin board.
The principles espoused in the Court of Appeal case, California Teachers Assn. v. Governing Board (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1383, support the right of teachers to wear buttons on Back-to-School Night, Lockyer said.
California Teachers said that teachers must be allowed to wear buttons when they are teaching students in the classroom. Teachers in such settings are not in a position “of power and influence,” the court said, and “there is very little risk their views will be unduly influential and thereby implicitly attributed to the school district.”
“We believe that the court’s analysis in California Teachers may be readily applied to the Back-to-School Night program. The event does not involve an instructional setting for pupils of the district….In this setting, it reasonably need not be feared that ‘young and impressionable minds’ will be unduly influenced by teachers wearing political buttons or that the parents will believe that the teachers’ political buttons reflect the views of the district’s governing board or other school officials. Specifically, there would be very little risk that even if some parents disagreed with the content of a particular political button, they would ‘like children, extend their disagreement to the level of general hostility and uncooperativeness.’ ”
The opinion, No. 01-307, was requested by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, and prepared for Lockyer by Deputy Attorney General Anthony S. Da Vigo.
Becky Zoglman, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, hailed the opinion. “This is a civil rights issue for us,” she explained.
CTA was asked for its views and responded, she explained, although it didn’t instigate the request for the opinion. The genesis of that request could not immediately be determined, as Scott was unavailable yesterday and an aide said she was unfamiliar with the issue.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company