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Running head: FREEDOM OF SPEECH 1

Freedom of Speech for Public Employees

Chapter 2 & 3 Assignment Submission (Portfolio Artifact #2)

Tina Johnsen

EDU210: Nevada School Law

Dr. Dale Warby

September 12, 2016


A case has been brought before the court involving the dismissal of Ann Griffin, a white

tenured teacher. The high-school principal that recommended her dismissal did so based on

concerns regarding her ability to treat students fairly as well as her judgment and competency as

a teacher. These concerns arose from negative reactions from staff to a leaked statement that was

made during a discussion with the school administration. Ms. Griffin made the statement that she

hated all black folks during the heated discussion with principal Freddie Watts and assistant

principal Jimmy Brothers, both African-American. This situation should be looked at from both

perspectives before judgment can be passed.

According to the administration, the teachers dismissal was warranted because of the

fact that, after the statement leaked, she was viewed as no longer able to treat her students fairly

as the high school was predominantly black. In the case Melzer vs. Board of Education, 336 F.3d

185 (2003), the court upheld a teachers dismissal on the opinion that his actions were

potentially disruptive to the school operations and undermined his effectiveness as a teacher.

Ann Griffins comment clearly made the staff uncomfortable and it would not be fair to the

students to place a teacher that advocates such a view in a position of authority above them.

Although all constitutional protections apply to teachers, including Freedom of Speech

under the First Amendment, the court must determine if the speech in question is protected or

not. As a result of the case Pickering vs. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), there is now a

set of questions, the Pickering Balancing Test, which helps the court determine if the speech in

question should be protected under the First Amendment. The most pertinent question is whether

the statement made by the teacher was of private of public concern. Obviously, the phrase was of

purely personal concern, a personal attack on the administrators, staff, and students of the high

school, and it would not protected under the First Amendment. As in a similar case, Loeffelman

vs. Board of Education, 134 S.W.3d 637 (2004), the court agreed because the teachers

comments addressed a matter of private concern, not of public concern, the board had authority

to terminate her employment without violating her rights under the First Amendment.

On the flipside of this case we have the teacher making a statement of her own beliefs.

There was nothing threatening in its context and no action was insinuated. In the case R.A.V. vs.

City of St. Paul, 505 US 377 (1992), the courts ruled an ordinance invalid based on the First

Amendment prevents government from punishing speech and expressive conduct because it

disapproves of the ideas expressed. Just because it is not nice to hate all black folks doesnt

mean the court has authority to pick a specific side of the debate.

Another point that can be mentioned is that the statement in question was leaked. Prior to

the teachers private comment being made public, her judgment and competency did not seem to

be in question as well as her colleagues comfort level of her and her fairness to the students. Had

this unfortunate statement, made in a stressful situation, not been made public, the issues that

caused her dismissal would not have existed. In a loose interpretation of Mt. Healthy vs. Doyle,

429 US 274 (1977), the court needed to determine if they would have reached the same decision

if it had not considered [the respondents] phone call. The administration could be viewed as

leaking the statement to create an unsettling environment in retaliation for the teachers


Now that both sides of this case have been researched, I conclude that the court would

rule in favor of the administration. Although the comment from Ms. Griffin was made in a

private meeting, it was still made. It was not in regards to a public matter, so it would be viewed

as a comment not protected by the First Amendment. If the courts used the Pickering Balancing

Test, they would conclude that 1) Ms. Griffin was not speaking on matters of public concern, 2)

her statement was the motivating factor for her dismissal, and 3) the disruption of the normal

operation of the school and the effectiveness of working relationships outweighed the teachers

interests (Hudson Jr., 2002). With that, the speech is not protected and the administrations

decision would be upheld.



Hudson Jr., D.L., (2002). Balancing Act: Public Employees and Free Speech. First Amendment

Center. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from


Loeffelman v. Board of Education of the Crystal City School District, 134 S.W.3d 637 (2004).

FindLaw. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from

Melzer vs. Board of Education, 336 F.3d 185 (2003). Justia US Law. Retrieved September 9,

2016, from

Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 US 274 (1977). Oyez. Retrieved September 9, 2016,

Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968). Oyez. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from
R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 US 377 (1992). Oyez. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from
Underwood, J. & Webb, L.D. (2006). School Law for Teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Education Inc.