That’s an especially pertinent question these days when public education has become a political football, with teachers often being criticized and even disciplined for things they say and do inside and outside classrooms.
In a recent column published by the Shreveport Times, Republican commentator and former Louisiana attorney general candidate Royal Alexander cited the case of a teacher in Waskom, Texas, who was reinstated after being put on leave for posting on TikTok about a threat.
The sixth-grade teacher reportedly felt that the district did not handle a shooting threat with enough urgency and concern, and also vented some general frustration about the challenges teachers face. He was placed on leave, the Times reported, and advised to bring a lawyer to his hearing. The teacher, Patrick Durbin, said he was unable to raise enough money to hire an attorney, but was reinstated anyway.
Alexander wrote that courts must consider three factors in determining whether a public employee’s speech is protected:
Is the speech about a matter of public concern?
Was the employee speaking as a citizen or employee?
How does that interest weigh against the government’s interest as an employer in running the public school?
In other words, Alexander said, these situations are very “fact-intensive and fact specific.” In his view, Durbin was correctly reinstated for a posting video that should have been seen as protected speech.