The First Amendment is under attack once again by a government agency in Florida. Former Florida Teacher of the Year, Jerry Buell, a veteran American history teacher at Mount Dora High School, was suspended while school officials in Lake County investigate allegations that what he posted on his personal FaceBook page was anti-homosexual. Unfortunately, we should have seen this violation of the First Amendment coming. The Florida legislature and Florida Department of Education have been on the forefront of subverting the Constitutional rights of school personnel, and have been laying the groundwork for this very case since 2008.
On July 1, 2008, the Florida legislature enacted Senate Bill 1712, the Ethics in Education Act. This act created rules and regulations regarding the actions of Florida school administrators, principals, and teachers. Notice, it is not specifically applicable to public schools. This act governs all schools, public and private. Private schools are brought under this absolute control if they accept McKay Scholarships or Corporate Scholarships as defined in Florida Statute. Every applicable school, as a result of this Act must implement an “Ethics in Education Policy” that is in compliance with the Act else lose their funding.
Not much fervor has erupted over this governmental intrusion of Constitutional rights of teachers and parents, because the Act seems rather reasonable and innocuous on its face. However, it isn’t until the Florida Department of Education’s goals in implementing this Act are understood, that the driving force of this Act is understood.
The Ethics in Education Act is over 32 pages long, full of legislative speak that is guaranteed to put any over worked administrator in a state of frustration. In an effort to make the transition to this Act easier for the schools, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) issued a notice to all applicable schools, public and private, informing them of the Act and giving them a FLDOE suggested policy for compliance with the Act. Although this may seem as an honest service to the schools, it is through this suggested policy that the real goal of the FLDOE and this Act becomes evident.
Under the heading WORKPLACE STANDARDS AND POLICIES; ETHICAL CONDUCT OF INSTRUCTIONAL PERSONNEL AND SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR, the suggested policy states:
As a representative of the school and district, personnel and administrators must demonstrate and uphold standards of ethical conduct both in and outside of the classroom. As a public employee and a role model to students, instructional personnel and school administrators have a duty, at all times, to: (emphasis added)
The provisions of this policy that specifically applies to Mr. Buell’s situation are found in same section. The policy states that applicable personnel must “Uphold the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida” and then sites Department of Education Rule, 6B-1.006, F.A.C. The policy then specifically requires personnel to assure that students are not discriminated against based upon a list of factors:
g. Shall not harass or discriminate against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, marital status, handicapping condition, sexual orientation, or social and family background and shall make reasonable effort to assure that each student is protected from harassment or discrimination. (emphasis added)
The policy then defines “harassment and bullying” to include a virtually unlimited avenue of censorship:
Harassment means any threatening, insulting, or dehumanizing gesture, use of data or computer software, or written, verbal, or physical conduct directed against a student or school employee
The policy adds the boiler-plate catch-all to include just about anything that could be conceived as contrary to the policy as harassment or bullying:
c. Acting in a manner that has an effect substantially similar to the effect of bullying or harassment.
Unfortunately, I believe this policy opens the door to the argument that qualified personnel have knowingly waived their off duty Constitutional rights. Although the purpose of the policy may now seem clear, the question really is, how many schools, both private and government, adopted this policy without real thought of the limitations on its personnel’s Constitutional rights? What is the accountability of our Legislators and Department of Education for taking away the Constitutional rights or the private and public school teachers? As public sector employment increases, policies like these will serve to eliminate the voice of the people. It may just be the call of our time to stand against such tyranny.
John Adams stated in his inaugural address of 1797:
If we are to have a free Republican Government we must have an attachment to the Constitution and a conscientious determination to support it.