I have to admit to deeply mixed feelings about this story from Fort Worth, Texas.
A high school English teacher in Texas who was fired after she sent tweets to President Trump asking him to rid her school of undocumented immigrants should be reinstated or be paid a year’s salary, a state agency ruled this week.
But the ruling is probably not the last turn in the story, as the Fort Worth Independent School District said that it believed her firing was appropriate and that it would appeal the state’s ruling.
“We stand by our decision because we firmly believe this is in the best interests of all students,” Kent P. Scribner, the superintendent of the school district, said in a statement this week.”
This reminds me of the old truism that “hard cases make bad law.”
The argument on behalf of the teacher seems too plain and straightforward to need much discussion: A tweet to the president about a matter of public interest is protected speech and neither the federal government nor any other of our myriad political subdivisions may punish her for it — and that’s that, right?
Not so fast. Federal regulations prohibit schools from asking about immigration status, so it’s likely that the teacher doesn’t actually know what proportion of the students in her school or classroom are illegal. Her complaint, in combination with the remark that the schools have been “taken over by them,” may in fact bespeak anti-Hispanic hostility, which would justify dismissal. Further, since the Hispanic families associated with her school doubtless know of her remarks, it’s likely that Hispanic students feel uncomfortable with the teacher and question her fairness.
Even if her tweets are protected speech, her effectiveness is gone.
So … what to do? Were I an administrator in that school district, I think I would have looked for a way to move her to a non-teaching position, or at least a position where she taught less impressionable students. Perhaps there is a night school program teaching English as a second language? Or perhaps she could assume some sort of roving position mentoring new teachers?
As I said, I have mixed feelings. I share the school district’s view that her (traditional) classroom effectiveness is gone, and she shouldn’t be leading one. I am just as squeamish about the idea of firing a teacher for public comments on a public issue in connection with an environment where she probably has a perspective more informed than most of us could possibly have.