I am writing this letter to bring to light the School Board's Human Resources and Talent Development Committee's recently proposed changes to Professional Conduct Policy 7560. Specifically, the new policy states that the following will not be tolerated of Loudoun County Public School employees:
"Any comments or actions that are not in alignment with the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity practices, and which impact an individual’s ability to perform their job responsibilities or create a breach in the trust bestowed upon them as an employee of the school division. This includes on-campus and off-campus speech, social media posts, and any other telephonic or electronic communication."
The updated policy later states in a halfhearted nod to the First Amendment that speech may be infringed in order to “maintain efficiency of the school system,” “maintain public trust and confidence” and “promote community peace and harmony.”
I am not aware of any statements in the First Amendment limiting speech that is not conducive to efficiency, peace and harmony. A quick internet search identified the U.S. Supreme Court case Pickering v. Board of Education. In this case a teacher was dismissed from their position due to publishing a letter in a local newspaper criticizing a Board of Education’s allocation of school funds. The stated grounds for dismissal were that the letter was “detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district.”
The majority opinion in that case held that the letter written by the teacher was protected speech because it dealt with matters of public concern and that the statements in the letter “concerned issues currently the subject of public attention” and “they were thus entitled to the same protection as if they had been made by a member of the general public.” Should any staff member be dismissed due to these new polices, LCPS would and should be subject to wrongful dismissal law suits.
Legal analysis aside, it is greatly troubling to me that a governmental entity would try to squelch the free flow of ideas that is the bedrock of our constitutional republic. The right to free speech and thus open and unrestricted debate was so important to the authors of our constitution they put it in the very first amendment. Who is in a better position to inform the general public of the impacts of LCPS policies on students and staff then the very staff who are charged with implementing those policies? Loudoun County School Board members are elected members of our local government. Should they be allowed to silence critics of their policies and so deny voters the chance to fully judge their tenure on the board? Should they be allowed to dictate permissible speech by LCPS staff in the privacy of their own homes or in their private telephone or email conversations? Should they be allowed to deny our community the right to openly debate and discuss issues which impact our children’s lives?
I think not.