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Buttons judge: "We trust the chancellor"

The full decision approving the ban on teachers wearing campaign buttons in school, by judge Lewis Kaplan, a federal district judge, is here.

Kaplan’s argument rests, in part, on a conclusion that Chancellor Joel Klein and Department of Education officials are “expert” at teaching the “skills and knowledge required in life”:

Our public schools are attended by students ranging from toddlers to 17- and 18-year-olds whose range of intellect and sophistication spans the entire spectrum from very low to extremely high. We trust the chancellor and the Board of Education to understand the needs, capabilities and vulnerabilities of that population and to design and implement programs to teach the skills and knowledge required in life. We do so because defendants are expert in those matters. As an initial matter, therefore, their view is entitled to the respect commanded by expertise.

Kaplan also argues that it is important that students not mistakenly think their teachers’ views represent the views of the Department of Education as a whole. Maybe “even more important,” he says, is the department’s imperative to avoid “the entanglement of their public educational mission with partisan politics.”

Below the jump, you can find UFT President Randi Weingarten’s statement, in which she calls the ruling “a victory” for teachers’ First Amendment rights.

The ruling in this case is a victory affirming that teachers in schools do indeed have First Amendment rights. We are grateful that the court ruled so quickly in backing the United Federation of Teachers on two of the three issues that led to our filing a federal lawsuit, namely teachers’ constitutional right to communicate with peers about important political matters via literature in school mailboxes and campaign posters on UFT bulletin boards in areas off-limits to students. This ensures that teachers can continue to maintain healthy peer-to-peer communication on important educational and political matters.

On the issue of teachers wearing political buttons in schools, we had already proposed a compromise to the Department of Education in which we would ask our members to not wear them in classrooms. Although the court ruled against us on that issue, it acknowledged that it was as a close call. Given that the overall decision preserves our members’ legal rights, we will wait until after Election Day to decide whether to pursue the matter further.

This exercise in democracy shows that teachers know how to balance their dual roles as objective educators and citizens freely expressing themselves, and we at the UFT are willing to fight for our members’ right to do so.

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