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Artifact #2 Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities

Arizbeth Zavala

College of Southern Nevada

EDU 210


Established in the Constitution are the First and Fourteenth Amendments which partake a critical

role in education law. The First Amendment, grants the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and

religion. The Fourteenth Amendment contains two clauses: The Equal Protection Clause and the

Due Process Clause, which specifically pertains to school litigation. As described in the

textbook, Legal Rights of Teachers and Students, due process ensures fundamental fairness if the

government threatens an individual’s life, liberty, or property interests (pg. 7). As we study

education law, it is essential to understand the limitations of the First Amendment because it

applies differently to teachers, who are state employees and can be disciplined. In addition,

knowledge of the guarantees of the Due Process Clause is important because it allows teachers to

defend themselves in lawsuits and dismissals. As future educators, it is our responsibility to

ensure comprehension of these amendments so that we are prepared when dictating how to

express and defend ourselves.

Keywords: Freedom of Speech, Due Process, education law


Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities

During a heated conversation with both principal and assistant principal, a tenured

teacher by the name of Anna Griffin proclaimed that she “hated all black folks.” When word

spread of her comments, it provoked unfavorable reactions from colleagues. The principal,

Freddie Watts, then recommended her dismissal, based on unease regarding her ability to treat all

students equally and just. Additionally, the principal also questioned her judgement and

competency as a teacher and employee of the school.

Although educators share the same constitutional rights listed under the First Amendment

as ordinary citizens, they must keep in mind their speech is not protected once they are clocked

in and have begun performing their duties. If a teacher is dismissed and she/he believes it

resulted from expression, the teacher can try to sue the school district using their due process

right listed under the Fourteenth Amendment. If the case surpasses state court, the Supreme

Court must then rely on previous cases influenced by freedom of speech to reach a verdict.

Preceding court cases like Pickering vs. Board of Education, Garcetti vs. Ceballos, Mt. Healthy

City School district vs. Doyle and Givhan vs. Western Line Consolidated School District, either

support the dismissal or the reinstatement of Anna Griffin. Based on these court cases and our

judgement as Nevada education law students, we must conclude whether the Supreme Court

would rule in favor or against Anna Griffin.

Defendant’s Defense

The court does not deny teachers their right to express themselves as private citizens.

However, teachers have the responsibility to ensure that what they express does not create a

hostile work environment nor does it interfere with their ability to teach. In the 1968 case,

Pickering v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court acknowledged that teachers have a First

Amendment right to broadcast their opinions on matters of public concern. In this case, Pickering

wrote a letter to a local newspaper criticizing the school board’s allocation of funds between

education and sports. Initially he was dismissed and the Illinois courts approved his dismissal.

However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the state courts because they assessed that

Pickering’s expression did not hinder his classroom performance or relationship between his

supervisor and fellow colleagues. The court also noted that given his position as a teacher,

Pickering could formulate an informed opinion on the allotment of the funds without fear of

reprisal (Cambron, McCarthy, & Eckes, 2014). In the situation of Anna Griffin, her expression

of hatred towards black people leaked and caused negative reactions from her coworkers, which

could have led to animosity and ultimately created an unfriendly work environment.

Furthermore, although not mentioned, it can be assumed that if her expression was disclosed to

students, they would also react unfavorably and possibly disrespect her as their superior.

Additionally, her type of expression did not formulate an informed opinion or bring up a concern

that could interest other private citizens. Because her words created a detrimental effect, the

Pickering ruling would not apply to Anna Griffin and the Supreme Court would uphold her


In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court determined that it should first be considered

whether the employee is speaking as a private citizen or as an employee because “if speaking as

an employee there is no further constitutional assessment (Cambron, McCarthy, & Eckes,

2014).” In this case, Ceballos was denied a promotion and was retaliated against for writing a

memorandum arguing that a deputy sheriff may have lied in the search warrant affidavit.

Regarding Anna Griffin, the court would use Garcetti v. Ceballos to conclude that she was

speaking as a paid employee when she articulated that she “hated all black folks,” thus allowing

her employer to discipline her. The Supreme Court would reason that Griffin was speaking as a

paid teacher and would maintain the recommendation of her dismissal.

Plaintiff’s Defense

Despite her dismissal due to unprotected expression, Anna Griffin could try to apply the

1977 court case of Mt. Healthy City School District v. Doyle to defend herself and claim that she

was fired on the sole reason of expression. In Mt. Healthy v. Doyle, the Supreme Court

“established that a teacher can be disciplined or dismissed if sufficient cause exists independent

of the exercise of protected speech (Cambron, McCarthy, & Eckes pg. 234).” In this case, a

nontenured teacher did not have his contract renewed after he made a telephone call to a radio

station commenting on a proposed grooming code. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the

district because they proved there was enough evidence besides the phone call to justify the

teacher’s nonrenewal, especially since he had made inappropriate gestures to several female

students. Considering that the school district did not mention other reasons for dismissal, Anna

Griffin would have to prove that her speech was constitutionally protected and that there were no

other reasons to substantiate her dismissal. If the Supreme Court found her expression to be

protected, they would then shift the burden to the school board to demonstrate that there was

enough evidence to dismiss Anna Griffin regardless of what she said.

Similarly, in the 1979 court case of Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District,

a teacher, Bessie Givhan did not have her contract renewed after she had a couple secluded

conversations with the principal “expressing her belief that the school district’s practices and

policies were racially discriminatory (Jernigan).” Givhan sued the school district arguing that her

employment was terminated for exercising her First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

Although the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the district, the Supreme Court ruled that

public employees do not automatically lose their First Amendment protections when

communicating in private forums (Jernigan). Anna Griffin could allege that her freedom of

speech was violated because she confided in her principal during a private meeting and did not

expect her words to be heard by third parties. The Court would then have to evaluate her

expression and determine whether it affected normal operations of the school and her job

performance. If the court assessed that her speech did not impede any school functions, Anna

Griffin could prevail.

Assessment of Outcome

Unfortunately, Anna Griffin committed an irreversible mistake when she blurted out loud

that she” hated all black folks” in front of both her principal and assistant principal. Although she

is free to express herself like any other citizen would, she spoke in the wrong place at the wrong

time. Because Anna Griffin is a teacher and employee of the school district, she subjected herself

to dismissal alike Ceballos in the Garcetti case. Moreover, the Pickering rule would only apply to

her if the expression were of public interest. In her case, it was not. Taking into consideration the

adverse effect of her words around campus and that she spoke as a public employee in a private

forum, the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the principal and approve the recommendation

of her dismissal.


To reiterate, the First Amendment gives citizens the constitutional right of freedom of

speech. However, as educators working for the school district, it is imperative to remember that

freedom of expression may not be protected upon the arrival to school grounds. As previously

mentioned, Anna Griffin self-inflicted her dismissal by not recognizing that her expression

would harm her current stance with the school district and would negatively affect her

relationships with superiors and coworkers. To justify her dismissal, the Supreme Court would

use Pickering v. Board of Education to recognize that teachers have First Amendment rights only

when voicing public concerns. Additionally, they would rely on Garcetti vs. Ceballos to affirm

that when employees speak following official duties, the Constitution would not protect them

from being disciplined by their employers. If Anna Griffin suspected that her freedom of speech

was violated, she could use her Fourteen Amendment right of due process to defend herself. The

legal team on her behalf could use Mt. Healthy v. Doyle to prove that her dismissal was only

based on the comment made, with no other independent reasons. The court case Givhan v.

Western Line Consolidated School District could also aid Anna Griffin by suggesting that her

comment was confided to the principal behind closed doors. Nonetheless, based on the current

evidence and comparison to the above mentioned court cases, the Supreme Court would rule in

favor of the school district and endorse her dismissal.



Cambron-McCabe, N.H., McCarthy, M.M., & Eckes, S. (2014). Legal Rights of Teachers and

Students. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Jernigan, M.J. (n.d.). Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District. Retrieved April 8,

2008, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Givhan-v-Western-Line-Consolidated