As Florida teachers receive reminders about their professional responsibilities in regard to their use of social media and other means to express their opinions about current events, it might be useful to examine their obligations as defined by the Florida Department of Education Rule 6A-10.081 and Section 1012.795 of Florida statutes that covers education.

First, from the statute language that might apply to teachers commenting about school board plans for opening the oncoming school year:

  • Upon investigation, has been found guilty of personal conduct that seriously reduces that person’s effectiveness as an employee of the district school board.
  • Has violated the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession prescribed by State Board of Education rules.

Second, from the FLDOE rule the general principles of teacher ethics:

(a) The educator values the worth and dignity of every person, the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, acquisition of knowledge, and the nurture of democratic citizenship. Essential to the achievement of these standards are the freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal opportunity for all.

(b) The educator’s primary professional concern will always be for the student and for the development of the student’s potential. The educator will therefore strive for professional growth and will seek to exercise the best professional judgment and integrity.

(c) Aware of the importance of maintaining the respect and confidence of one’s colleagues, of students, of parents, and of other members of the community, the educator strives to achieve and sustain the highest degree of ethical conduct.

Third, the rule spells out how those principles look in practice:

(b) Obligation to the public requires that the individual:

1. Shall take reasonable precautions to distinguish between personal views and those of any educational institution or organization with which the individual is affiliated.

2. Shall not intentionally distort or misrepresent facts concerning an educational matter in direct or indirect public expression.

(c) Obligation to the profession of education requires that the individual:

3. Shall not interfere with a colleague’s exercise of political or civil rights and responsibilities.

First take: it doesn’t seem like a teacher, criticizing a school system’s plan about reopening schools during a pandemic, would fall afoul of the provision about distinguishing between a personal view and a school board position. Criticizing a school board/superintendent position or plan would be prima facie evidence that the the distinction has been made.

Second take: coercive attempts to silence public employees from speaking out would seem that the school system, not the employees, are violating (c) 3. Who is interfering with whom’s political and civil rights?

Third take: it’s that talk about diminishing one’s effectiveness as a school board employee as well as maintaining the respect of everyone (ah, the 100% test that is impossible for anyone to meet) that gives the school system the wiggle room to issue a warning to its employees.

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