Teachers in Southlake, Texas, requested to signal ‘non-disparagement’ agreements

Seven months after academics on the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, went public with their considerations about an administrator’s recommendation to steadiness books on the Holocaust with titles that present “opposing” views, district workers this week found {that a} new clause had been added to their annual employment contracts, listed underneath the heading: “Non-Disparagement.”

“You agree to not disparage, criticize, or defame the District, and its employees or officials, to the media,” it learn.

Four Carroll academics, talking on the situation that they not be named as a result of they feared retaliation, stated they had been disturbed by the brand new contract language.

“Only a district that is knowingly doing something wrong would choose to silence its entire staff,” certainly one of them wrote in a textual content message to a reporter on Thursday.

“I hadn’t yet decided if I was going to leave, but it seems the district decided for me!” one other wrote.

Officials for each the National Education Association and the Texas State Teachers Association, unions that signify academics nationally and throughout Texas, condemned the contract language as an try and silence academics.

“This is the first time we have heard of a school district putting that language into a teacher contract,” stated Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. “It is a rejection of a teacher’s fundamental First Amendment rights. A teacher also is a taxpayer, who is entitled to criticize a public school district.”

Michael Leroy, a labor regulation knowledgeable on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, stated that prohibiting public college workers from criticizing their district “is absolutely indefensible under the Constitution,” including that the brand new clause in Carroll’s trainer contracts is “clearly unconstitutional. I mean, that’s not even a close call.”

Nondisparagement clauses are extra frequent within the employment contracts of personal firms, which aren’t topic to the First Amendment, Leroy stated.

A spokeswoman for the Carroll college system, about 30 miles northwest of Dallas, didn’t instantly touch upon the brand new contract clause.

Southlake’s faculties have been the main target of nationwide media protection lately, notably the district’s handing of scholars’ allegations of discrimination and bullying. That has positioned the town on the heart of a rising political battle over college applications, books and curricula on race, gender and sexuality that some conservatives have labeled important race idea.

In 2018, leaders within the Carroll college system promised and finally failed to make sweeping adjustments to deal with racism within the district following the discharge of a video of white highschool college students chanting the N-word. After the video went viral, dozens of fogeys, college students and up to date graduates got here ahead with tales of racist and anti-LGBTQ harassment at Carroll, a majority-white district that has grown extra numerous lately.

Since then, conservative candidates supported by Southlake Families PAC, a gaggle fashioned to defeat the range plan, have received majority management of the Carroll college board and voted to kill the plan.

Carroll was again within the nationwide highlight in October, after a district administrator was secretly recorded advising academics that if they’ve a e book in regards to the Holocaust within the classroom, they need to additionally supply college students entry to a e book from an “opposing” viewpoint. The instruction was meant, partially, to assist academics adjust to a brand new Texas regulation that requires educators to current a number of views when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” points.

News of the remark drew worldwide outrage, together with from Holocaust survivors, and the district later apologized and walked again these directions.

That story got here to mild after greater than a half dozen Carroll academics spoke to NBC News on the situation of anonymity. In the months since, some dad and mom in Southlake have tried to uncover the identities of the academics who spoke to the media and have known as on district leaders to fireside them, in response to social media posts and emails reviewed by NBC News.

A month later, in November, the Carroll college board voted to amend district coverage to ban workers from secretly recording college district enterprise. There was no college board vote so as to add the brand new nondisparagement clause to trainer contracts.

Robison, the academics union spokesman, stated the clause “seems designed to protect districts from embarrassment over mistakes in judgment and discourage teachers from speaking out over poor educational decisions.”

Alice O’Brien, common counsel on the National Education Association, related the clause to the nationwide effort to restrict the methods academics speak about racism and sexuality within the classroom, writing in an announcement, “Instead of censoring the truth, let’s focus on addressing the real issues facing Texas students, starting with paying educators more and making sure students have the resources they need to succeed.”

Leroy, the University of Illinois regulation professor, stated the nondisparagement clause seems to violate a half-century-old U.S. Supreme Court precedent that established the fitting of presidency workers to talk on issues of public significance, even when it means criticizing their employer.

In that 1968 case, Pickering v. Board of Education, the court docket discovered {that a} college district in Illinois violated a trainer’s First Amendment rights when it fired him for writing a letter to a neighborhood newspaper criticizing the college board for prioritizing funding for athletics over trainer salaries.

“If a teacher, and for that matter if a public employee, is speaking on a matter of public concern, it is protected speech,” Leroy stated, noting that the one time he’s seen authorities workers requested to signal a nondisparagement clause has been in settlement agreements after public workers have been fired, not as a situation of their employment.

Two different labor regulation consultants agreed {that a} blanket ban on academics criticizing a public college district might be unconstitutional.

A Carroll trainer, texting a reporter from her lunch break, summarized her response to the brand new contract language this manner: “It seems like if we say anything to anyone then we’re screwed. What happened to freedom of speech?”

CORRECTION (April 28, 2022, 7:21 p.m. ET): A earlier model of this text misspelled the title of the Texas State Teachers Association spokesman. He is Clay Robison, not Clay Robinson.

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