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How political should teachers be?

A charter school teacher was recently fired for helping her students organize a fundraiser. Participating in student activities and encouraging engaged citizenship is something that many teachers do and can be the mark of a great educator. But many schools, especially public schools, require that teachers stay neutral on political issues.

The charter school teacher was helping her students with a fundraiser for the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenage boy who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer earlier this year. Trayvon's case has become a controversial issue and has sparked national debate on gun control, self defense, and racial profiling. All of these issues are important subjects for students to discuss and learn about in school, but apparently the fundraiser was a step too far into activism for school administrators to allow.

The charter school teacher's case brings up important questions about a teacher's rights to free speech in the school environment, and if and when that interferes with their job duties enough to justify termination. Where is the line between freedom of expression and encouraging civic engagement, and impressible political speech and activism in the school setting?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has said that this teacher did not cross the line, and is lobbying for the teacher to be reinstated. An online petition supporting the cause has gathered significant traction and about 200,000 signatures so far.

Is this a violation of the teacher's constitutional rights? Or is a public school the wrong place for teachers to express an opinion?

Source: The Atlantic, "Michigan Teacher Fired for Organizing Trayvon Martin Fundraiser," Emily Richmond, May 7, 2012

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