A teacher was employed by a school district under a continuing contract during the 2018-19 school year. In May 2019, the teacher publicly posted the following tweets on Twitter, which were directed to then-President Donald Trump:
"Mr. President, the school
district is loaded with illegal students from Mexico. The High School
has been taken over by them. Drug dealers are on our campus and nothing was
done to them when drug dogs found the evidence. I contacted the feds here
a few months ago and the person I spoke with did not want to help me or even
listen to me. The campus police officer spends his time texting on his cell
phone and doing the bidding of the Hispanic assistant . . . . . . principal who
protects certain students from criminal prosecution. There is fraud being
committed and how the Special Education Department on our campus is being run.
The District knows about this and turns a blind eye to it. I need
protection from recrimination should I report to the authorities but I do not
know where to turn. I contacted the Texas Education Agency and then my teacher
organization. Texas will not protect whistle blowers. The Mexicans refuse to
honor our flag. I do not know what to do. Anything you can do to remove the
illegals from my district would be greatly appreciated."
"Mr. President, I asked for
assistance in reporting illegal immigrants in the public school system and I
received an alarming tweet from someone identifying himself as one of your
assistants followed by a second tweet from the same person . . . . . . with the
f word used in the dot com. I promptly deleted both tweets and sent a message
to Twitter about it. I really need a contact here who should be actively
investigating and removing the illegals that are in our public school system.
The school district was notified
of the tweets on May 29, 2019. That same day, the school district placed the
teacher on administrative leave. Also that same day, multiple news
outlets began publishing stories regarding the tweets and requesting
information from the school.
The school district received
multiple emails from concerned current and former students, parents and
community members. During the next school board meeting, 14 members of the public spoke about their concerns regarding the tweets during
the public-comment portion of the meeting. Their concerns included that
students may be kept home from school due to fear created by the tweets and
that the tweets could affect students' learning, mental health and
general well-being. After hearing public comment, the board voted unanimously
to propose the termination of the teacher's contract.
The teacher requested a hearing
before an independent hearing examiner, arguing that her tweets were protected
free speech under the First Amendment. Following a hearing, the examiner agreed and recommended that the teacher be reinstated.
However, the district rejected that recommendation and voted to terminate the
teacher's contract. The teacher appealed to the commissioner of education, who
ruled that the district had improperly terminated her and ordered that she be
reinstated. The district appealed to district court, which held that the board
had in fact properly terminated the teacher. The teacher appealed.
In examining whether the
teacher's tweets were protected for free speech under the First Amendment, the
court of appeals noted that teachers have the right to speak about "matters of public
concern." In this instance, the teacher's tweets included expressions of
concern regarding immigration, school safety and public employee
effectiveness, which are matters of public concern. However, in determining
whether the speech was constitutionally protected under the First
Amendment, the court must balance the teacher's interests in expressing
her concerns with the school district's "interest in performing its
services efficiently." In considering that balance, the
court considered whether the statement impaired discipline by
superiors or harmony among co-workers, had a detrimental impact on close
working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary,
or interfered with the regular operation of the school district.
The teacher argued that her
tweets were protected free speech because they were made off campus, after
work hours, directed to a public official, and that they concerned
topics of public concern. The school district argued that the disruption
was significant and interfered with the district's interest in operating its
schools in an environment in which children feel safe.
The court of appeals noted
that the district received numerous forms of communication from the public
and the media regarding the tweets and at least two perceived threats. The
principal testified that at least one parent wanted to keep her children home
from school because of fear caused by the tweets and public reaction to them,
there was an in-person community response including 14 individuals
speaking out about their concerns of the effects that the teacher's tweets
could have on students at a school board meeting, and there was widespread
publicity of the tweets by local, national and international media
The court concluded that although
the tweets sought assistance from an elected official and addressed matters of
public concern, the tweets created community concern regarding the effect on
students' learning, mental health, and general well-being, and resulted in
a possible chilling effect that could prevent some children from attending
school. Additionally, there were threats and security concerns created by
the public outcry. Therefore, the district had evidence to show that the tweets
created disruption to the operations of the school district sufficient to
terminate the teacher's contract. The court of appeals ruled in favor of the
school district and upheld the termination of the teacher's contract.
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