Duval County School Board moves to silence teacher blogs


If teachers are lying in their blogs, they can already be sanctioned for libel. This means such rules are not set in place to prevent lies, but to prevent teachers from stating the truth.


It’s become apparent that the School Board is mostly targeting a single teacher with this new “professional standard” forbidding blogs: Chris Guerrieri.

Board Member Scott Shine left this comment on Mr. Guerrieri’s blog post regarding the new policy:

Chris,

Just an fYI on the social media policy, this was proposed as a policy addition from Dr. Vitti and was taken up by your liberal friends on the board in the policy review subcommittee (against my wishes)a month ago. They were unanimous in moving it to next years employee professional standards. So, you only have a few months to add to your resume of false and reckless statements. Sadly, I did not even get a chance to vote on it. So, give your thanks to Hall, Wright and Couch for the “anti-Guerrieri” code of conduct addition next fall. While I am highly disappointed I did not get in on the action, and still want to bring it forward as a policy addition as originally submitted by the superintendent, so it can take affect in before the end of this school year.

An elected School Board official gloated about a personal “victory” over one of his teachers, in the comment section of a blog belonging to that teacher.

He even called it the “anti-Guerrieri” rule; I’m no lawyer, but this strikes me as an extraordinarily foolish statement from a liability standpoint.

Shine seemed to issue a thinly-veiled threat against Chris Guerrieri’s job, telling a school teacher in writing he only has “a few more months to add to your resume.”

No matter how he finished that sentence, the choice of the word “resume” was intentional. Imagine a city councilor or state legislator bullying and threatening the career of a blogger who criticizes the politician’s actions. It’s demeaning to Shine’s elected position.

Shine has made it clear that Duval County, a government entity, is considering taking targeted punitive action against a whistle-blower. And possibly, as a government entity (DCPS is not a private employer), might (or might not, again I’m not a lawyer) be infringing on teachers’ First Amendment rights.

I’d tread very lightly on this topic if I were Shine, Vitti, or the School Board.

Exposing corruption and incompetence in Public Education is in the public interest. Teachers are the often the only people able to do so.

We can’t allow teachers to be silenced on this crucial issue. Thankfully, I’m not convinced the School Board or Vitti have this power.


EDIT: Here are my follow-up questions, as a non-lawyer:

  1. As stated above: I’m no Constitutional scholar, and I may be misinformed, but a government agency threatening the livelihood of an American citizen for criticizing government actions seems like a reasonably straightforward violation of the First Amendment [see new information below], at least to me.
  2. Barring that, I’m not sure an employer can impose such a far-reaching imposition into the after-hours activities of unionized employees without negotiating it with the union.

Again, I’m not a lawyer. These are just thoughts.


EDIT 2: For public employees, the First Amendment Center has produced a document detailing a legal litmus test called the “Pickering Test” (PDF Warning) that “balances the employee’s interest, as a citizen, speaking on matters of public concern with the government’s interest, as an employer, in providing the particular public services efficiently”. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule (little in the realm of Law is), but this quote from a Supreme Court decision stood out to me:

“Vigilance is necessary to ensure that public employers do not use authority over employees to silence discourse . . . simply because superiors disagree with the content of employees’ speech.”  -Justice Thurgood Marshall (in Rankin v. McPherson)

2 Comments

Filed under DCPS Issues

  • Is there a copy of this policy somewhere?

    • I don’t have a copy of it. Here is the information I do have:

      The Florida Times-Union stated on Monday that Scott Shine “wants tougher social media policies limiting what school employees, including board members, can say about the district on . . . blogs and other media.”

      http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2016-02-15/story/duval-school-board-acrimony-and-dissent-builds-one-member-calls-another/

      Scott Shine shortly thereafter wrote on the social policy to Chris Guerrieri:

      “They were unanimous in moving it to next years employee professional
      standards. So, you only have a few months to add to your resume of false
      and reckless statements. Sadly, I did not even get a chance to vote on
      it. So, give your thanks to Hall, Wright and Couch for the
      “anti-Guerrieri” code of conduct addition next fall. While I am highly
      disappointed I did not get in on the action, and still want to bring it
      forward as a policy addition as originally submitted by the
      superintendent, so it can take affect in before the end of this school
      year.”

      A Freedom of Information request for this information would get the exact wording, but whatever the wording may be, it seems fairly clear they are trying to ban teachers criticizing the District in any way online.

      And it also seems clear that they (at the very least Mr. Shine) are specifically targeting Mr. Guerrieri.

      I will repeat my take: this action is not necessary to prevent lies. You don’t have to make a specific rule preventing employees from spreading lies.

      This makes me think DCPS is trying to bully Mr. Guerrieri into silence using the chilling effect of the “Professional Standards/Code of Conduct”.

      I encourage the School Board to stand against Mr. Shine’s bully tactics — or even to tell me why you think they’re not bully tactics — if I’m mistaken about anything I’ve said.