N.C. Senate bill would criminalize, fire teachers for having political views | News

N.C. Senate bill would criminalize, fire teachers for having political views

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PHOTO BY JEREMY LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy Lange

Some public school teachers— no doubt tired of buying their own school supplies and grading a bunch of incorrigible kids’ papers written in textspeak and generally being the most disrespected government employees in the state—have taken to demonstrating their commitment to public schools by wearing red for ed. For education that is, and they are heroes to be teaching in North Carolina instead of fleeing to the private sector like so many education tax dollars, or to Texas.

And now, under Senate Bill 480, their support for public education could earn them a Class 1 misdemeanor, because supporting public education is being considered a political view. That’s the equivalent of simple assault, or robbing a vending machine. Just wearing a red shirt in the classroom to say you support education.

As Melissa Geil, a freelance writer and English teacher writes in a blog post for Women AdvaNCe, the law makes sense in theory. You don’t want your kid’s teacher espousing political views in class or otherwise doing something on the taxpayer’s dime that they’re not being paid to do.

And the bill has bipartisan support: it passed a Senate committee stacked with usually reasonable Democrats— including local Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh, and Sens. Mike Woodard and Floyd McKissick of Durham— and passed the House on its first reading.

So what’s the problem?

Geil cites education law attorney Ann McColl, who says that if the bill gets through, policing teachers’ speech to that extent could have a chilling effect to the point where a tenth grade civics teacher is being arrested for telling her students to write to their local officials.

“The climate of fear that would ensue would ensure faculty silence on all fronts,” Geil says. “Because who knows what constitutes criminalized speech? What types of speech cross the line? The bill is unclear.”

It could also be a First Amendment violation.

“We as a society benefit when we hear from teachers,” says McColl.

Geil agrees.

“We should be looking to our educators to inform us about the best practices in public education, to act as advocates for our students and districts, and to provide our children with the best way forward for their futures,” she writes. “We should not be looking to lock them up because they dared to suggest that public education has value and deserves to be discussed, not silenced.”

There are nearly 80,000 full-time elementary and secondary school teachers in North Carolina. We have a much-touted $400 million budget surplus. By my math (thanks teachers!), we could give them all a $5,000 raise, with some more to spare for teachers’ assistants, facilities and supplies. We could do that, and also, we could listen to what they have to say.

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