Free speech trumps school system’s gag rule on teachers
Written by Michael Lewis on June 16, 2015
Educators long have fought to teach freely, standing firmly for free speech.
That makes it all the more pitiful that the Miami-Dade County school district is telling the world that its 40,000-plus employees can say what they like only if they are politically correct. Otherwise, shut up – even outside of school.
What a distorted lesson for 345,651 students in the nation’s fourth largest school system.
Last week the schools issued a formal statement that Alberto Iber, principal of North Miami Senior High, had been removed and would be replaced for posting this on a web site: “He did nothing wrong. He was afraid for his life. I commend him for his actions.” He was defending white policeman David Eric Casebolt in McKinney, Texas, who had waved a gun at black teens.
Since when is it a firing offense to say that a cop was right? Only in our school system.
Mr. Iber wasn’t doing wrong to express himself. It’s the legal right of every citizen, school policy be damned.
Sure, Officer Casebolt was in the wrong. Brandishing guns anywhere, and certainly at kids, is unacceptable. But if we don’t like what happened, go after the cop in Texas, not a Miamian with a different viewpoint.
Unlike the officer, Mr. Iber was convicted without trial. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho broadcast in a statement that “Insensitivity – intentional or perceived – is both unacceptable and inconsistent with our policies…” The release also said that all school employees are “held to a higher standard” and are required to represent “the school district’s core values.”
Clearly, free speech is not among those core values. Which values does the district rank higher in its standards than the First Amendment to our Constitution? Is it the value of educators shutting up, or perhaps the value of asking district officials for permission to speak?
Since Miami Today is not held to some cockamamie “higher standard” that forces us to shut up if we don’t follow a vague policy on which views we may express, we point out that it’s a terrible lesson to students that 40,000 teachers and employees can’t say what they believe, right or wrong, without fear of losing their jobs.
This policy wouldn’t last 10 minutes in court. It’s a classic case for the American Civil Liberties Union to make sure that Mr. Iber is back in his job. Days after a statement that he was gone and being replaced, the district said that he is still a principal – somewhere, somehow. It should be right back where he was, right now.
We in the newspaper profession hold dear two core values: build your community and protect the rights of all to speak freely.
Free speech laws protect unpopular views on simmering issues. It’s only when some people detest your views, right or wrong, that you need the free speech protection that our constitution affords.
This civics lesson ought to be a topic in the district’s classrooms. Students should be learning that varying views exist and to consider all sides, not just the one that the school board and superintendent favor.
Students need to think, not just accept the only view allowed. These North Miami Senior High school students will soon graduate and be on someone’s payroll. Workers who can only parrot back an official position will never reach top-level jobs.
A principal was yanked out of school because he spoke up outside of school about a national issue. In Cuba we’d expect that kneejerk penalty. The Castros have done it for decades. But in the US we have protection from a First Amendment, which says, in full:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
If Congress may not ban free speech, neither should schools.
If this was a civics lesson, the schools would get a failing grade. It’s a bad lesson for kids.
A better lesson summarizes the views of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Mr. Iber had every right to speak out – just as everyone under our Constitution has a right to voice views, be they right, wrong or just plain wacky. To remove him clearly violates his rights. To remove him after he spoke out has nothing to do with his performance as principal and everything to do with his politically incorrect position.
The schools call it an error of judgment to calmly state one’s views. But the error in judgment was by the schools, not the speaker.
Gagging all school employees, as the policy statement requires to meet some “higher standard,” is a method of Cuba, not the US. We stand by the First Amendment as our higher standard.
Mr. Iber needs to return to his job with a strong apology – not from him for his views or for speaking out, but from the administration for its insensitive lack of judgment.