A fired teacher told it like it was in her blog. And for that, the former suburban Philadelphia teacher was sacked from her position at East High School in Central Bucks, Pa., and the federal judge considering her free-speech violation appeal tossed out her suit, dismissing it entirely.
In 2011, Natalie Munroe blogged that her students were “disengaged, lazy whiners.” That small phrase, and similar off-putting comments, has grossed Munroe years of heartache and controversy.
The Associated Press on July 31, via MSN News, reported that U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe on Friday discharged the suit. “The judge ruled that Munroe's blog posts didn't provide enough value to the debate over educational reform to outweigh the district's right to maintain an ‘efficient’ educational environment,” wrote the AP.
Ms. Munroe, who still operates a blog under nataliemunroe.com, wrote in June of 2012: “In short, yes, I've been set up. For now, that's all I'm going to say about it.”
I worked hard every day this year to prepare my students for whatever lies before them, to meet the challenges that arose daily, and to perform my myriad duties at work with pride and dignity. Though it will surely be implied otherwise, I know the truth, my colleagues know the truth, my students and their parents know the truth. I stand by my work this year, and every year before.
The former teacher said that as she has been "waging battles at work every day against a corrupt system," the "government has continued its assault on public education… good teachers are still losing their jobs because the people in charge have no idea what needs to be done."
At the heart of Munroe’s appeal is her freedom of speech, an intrinsic right that cannot be curtailed or neglected because she chose to express her disappointment with some students in her former English class.
The issue with my job is bigger than me. It's about freedom of speech. It's about having integrity and not compromising the truth. It's about the downward spiral of our education system and the low value that people place on education. It's about making people accountable. It's about standing up for personal beliefs and not apologizing when those beliefs aren't popular.
Some of the other posts that Munroe had in her blog discussed her “scornful feelings” for some in her class that “reach such fever pitch” that she has a hard time being “cooperative.” She revealed that she would enter identifiable phrases in her grade book next to certain names, such as “a complete and utter jerk in all ways,” “was just as bad as his sibling,” and “a cheater and liar.”
In his rejection of Munroe’s appeal, Judge Rufe said Munroe’s postings were “far from implicating larger discussions of education reform, pedagogical methods, or specific school policies,” but instead simply were a sounding board to “complain about the failure of (Munroe’s) students to live up to her expectations.”
Munroe could have used her blog “as a springboard for any number of important discussions that might have touched upon real issues of public concern,” Rufe said, but instead, the blog posts “erode the necessary trust and respect between Munroe and her students.”
The school district has denied canning Munroe because of the blog post, instead citing poor performance reviews as the reason for her firing. Munroe says that her record was unblemished until her blog posts surfaced, at which point the school district looked for any and every small pebble to hurl her way until they broke her.
Rovner said he and Muroe will elevate the judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals within the next week.
“We disagree all around,” Rovner said. “We believe that it was protected free speech, and that her right to free speech is greater than the rights the school district has asserted. We think the result in the higher federal courts would be different.”
Pennsylvania School Superintendent David Weitzel applauded the judge’s decision to toss out Munroe’s appeal.
“The court's decision reinforces the importance of all educators to respect the dignity of all students,” Weitzel said. “I believe that the vast majority of our teachers and staff care a great deal about our students and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve."
Munroe’s case is spurring Freedom of Speech discussions and debate as to where the line should be drawn, or even if there can be delineation between the protected rights of one’s opinion and speech that someone else determines is nothing more than negativity at its best, and harmful vitriol at its worse.
Burton Caine, a professor of law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, believes the judge’s ruling is one-sided.
“My own personal view is that the case didn’t really give enough weight to the First Amendment,” Caine said. “Everybody wants to punish the speech they don’t like, and they make up a reason for it… If his decision is right, I better tell my colleagues at Temple that we can’t criticize students, since we are public employees too.”
Fore more on this, see a linked article from Munroe’s blog that discusses the background of her firing.
What are your thoughts? Should a teacher or any other person gainfully employed be terminated because of negative things they may make public on a blog post or social media site? Sound off below.