Does the First Amendment protect a teacher’s classroom speech? Three competing standards have emerged to answer this question: (1) the Hazelwood standard, (2) the Pickering standard, and (3) the Garcetti standard.
1. The Hazelwood Standard
In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court recognized a school’s right to restrict “school-sponsored speech” without violating the First Amendment as long as the restriction is reasonably related to a legitimate educational concern. 484 U.S. 260, 273 (1988). Under the Hazelwood standard, a teacher’s classroom speech is said to be sponsored by the school and is therefore subject to reasonable school restrictions. See, e.g., Silano v. Sag Harbor Union Free Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 42 F.3d 719, 722–23 (2d Cir. 1994); Miles v. Denver Pub. Schs., 944 F.2d 773, 777–78 (10th Cir. 1991). The First Circuit similarly held that a school "may regulate a teacher's classroom speech if: (1) the regulation is reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical concern; and (2) the school provided the teacher with notice of what conduct was prohibited." Ward v. Hickey, 996 F.2d 448, 452 (1st Cir. 1993).
2. The Pickering Standard
In Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County, the Supreme Court held that government entities like public schools may restrict employee speech unless it involves a matter of public concern. 391 U.S. 563, 572–75 (1968). Under the Pickering standard, the Third and Fourth Circuits have held that a teacher’s classroom speech relating to the curriculum is not a matter of public concern and therefore may be restricted by the school. See Bradley v. Pittsburgh Bd. of Educ., 910 F.2d 1172, 1176 (3d Cir. 1990); Boring v. Buncombe Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 136 F.3d 364, 368 (4th Cir. 1998). The Sixth Circuit, however, has held that, in some cases, classroom speech may in fact address a matter of public concern, in which case the speech is protected if the public matter is more important than the school’s interest in effectively educating students. See Evans-Marshall v. Bd. of Educ. of the Tipp City Exempted Vill. Sch. Dist., 428 F.3d 223, 230 (6th Cir. 2005).
3. The Garcetti Standard
Finally, in Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court held that government officials may restrict the speech of their employees when speaking in their capacity as state employees. 547 U.S. 410 (2006). Pursuant to the Garcetti standard adopted by the Seventh Circuit, teachers are treated as speaking in their official capacity as state employees when doing so in the classroom. Therefore, under the Garcetti standard, “school officials should be able to control and limit completely the speech of teachers in the classroom.” Mayer v. Monroe Cnty. Cmty. Sch. Corp., 474 F.3d 477, 480 (7th Cir. 2007).
- James Conrad Lester, Note, Inculcation into Indoctrination Predicting Justice Sotomayor's Impact on Teachers' Speech in the Public School Classroom, 62 Ala. L. Rev. 663 (2011) (click here).