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“Teachers, Social Media, and Free Speech” by Vasek Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Feb 21st, 2022

The article discusses the current topic of social media use by teachers and the legislation balancing free speech rights and the educational benefits of social media. The authors claim that in the United States, teachers use social media to contact students or parents, improve the curriculum, and develop professionally through interaction with peers (Vasek & Hendricks, 2016). Despite the benefits of social media, it has its drawbacks, as some teachers publish controversial content, and their social networking with students might be considered inappropriate. The following paper will explain the need for responsible social media use and describe the limits of the Pickering decision.

The problems of the irresponsible use of social media and unprofessional teacher-to-student networking require school leaders and legislators to take disciplinary action against educators regardless of their First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. Thus, teachers should exercise caution while using social media or networking with students to enjoy the technology’s pedagogical benefits without the risks of damaging their careers. The case of Pickering v. Board of Education provided protection for teachers commenting on socially important matters. However, educators should avoid media comments on employment conditions since they will be considered as personal matters that are not covered by First Amendment protection. Moreover, the teachers should ensure that their speech or a social media publication does not interfere with school operations or working relationships between employees and supervisors.

The modern case of Spanierman v. Hughes involved the Pickering balancing test. The teacher used his personal Myspace account to contact students, but the page also had inappropriate content. The school guidance counselor received students’ complaints and advised Spanierman to use the school email instead of the personal account for communication with students. The school officials refused to renew the contract with Spanierman after he created the identical Myspace page. The case was dismissed as there was no public concern involved, and the content had a negative impact on the educational environment. Therefore, teachers should avoid social media networking with students or topics unrelated to education as inappropriate speeches are not protected by the First Amendment and might lead to lawful employment termination. Additionally, educators should never post personal information and comments about students, parents, or other teachers, as the case of Munroe v. Central Bucks School District shows. Despite the teacher’s attempt to hide her identity, it was uncovered, and the offensive content of her blog led to her termination. As the blog negatively affected relationships and respect in the school community, the court dismissed the case, so it was not protected by the First Amendment.

The legal case of Pickering v. Board of Education demonstrates how free speech rights protect school teachers. Marvin Pickering was fired by the board of education after expressing his disagreement with their financial decisions in a local newspaper. Pickering appealed to the court in 1968, which resulted in the conclusion that educational goals must be balanced with the teachers’ free speech rights. The Pickering balancing test, however, created some limits to the freedom of speech, as seen from Connick v. Myers case. Sheila Myers lost the case, as the court decided that her questionnaires did not communicate a matter of public concern.

The cases of Pickering and Connick led to the development of a two-prong test during free speech challenges. The first prong requires teachers to prove that their message addresses a matter of public concern. The second prong demands that a teacher demonstrate how his/her speech interests “outweigh the school’s efficiency in operations interest” (Vasek & Hendricks, 2016, p. 3). Overall, the court decisions limited the freedom of speech, so the educators can rely on the First Amendment only when their speech involves public concern and the school’s operations.

Reference

Vasek, M., & Hendricks, R. (2016). Teachers, social media, and free speech. eJournal of Education Policy, 1–10.

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