For those planning to Rally for Public Education on Boston Common May 20, there are significant reasons to rally, among them the desire to see less standardized testing and more learning, continued efforts to keep privatization moguls from their relentless meddling, dedication to a concept of equal funding/ equal opportunity for all students.
While all those rallying have at the core of their activism a vision of successful student outcomes, there is another menacing issue that bears watching ; an attempt to destroy teachers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of expression. Ensuring civil rights for teachers is at the core foundation of student outcomes.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is planning the “expansion of disciplinary powers” by state Education commissioner, Mitchell Chester, to tighten his grip over the opinions of the teachers’ rank and file – in turn setting off alarms at the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Giving dictatorial powers to one individual- Chester- is unprecedented, violates due process of law, and could be implemented as early as June, 2017. It includes “ a package of proposed regulatory amendments… to suspend, limit or revoke (a teacher’s) license if -in Chester’s opinion- the educator has engaged in undefined “misconduct” that “discredits the profession.”
An informational release from Lou St. John, President of the New Bedford Educators Association, characterized the regulations as “a plan to silence educators and a threat to free speech rights of our members.”
A legal assessment by MTA stated, “ the proposed language is fatally flawed because it is overbroad and so vague… that it sweeps speech and behavior that are constitutionally protected.”
Therefore, the MTA document asks, rhetorically, could an educator’s “criticism of high stakes testing discredit the profession,” one of the protocols in the regulation?
Does a teacher bring her or his profession “into disrepute”- another of the regulation’s protocols- “by publishing an article or letter to the editor criticizing some action (by) the Commissioner?”
As any teacher knows, who has been involved in a fracas with their district , regarding their contractual obligations or advocacy for the well-being of their students, there is great power in administrative efforts to stifle dissent and often such power is wielded, relentlessly, until the teacher is pummeled into submission.
And the moral turpitude clause in the basic teacher contract is more than enough clout to discipline teachers found guilty of criminal or unethical activity.
So those who would attend the rally at Boston Common would be well advised to consider the tyranny being proposed against teachers’ freedom of expression and to consider that clear and present danger as an additional reason to march.
An attack on teachers’ rights is an attack on education, too, and a threat against our democracy.