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First and foremost, before they are educators, public school teachers are citizens of the United States whose rights are and should be equally protected as the rest of the citizens of the US, and not diminished by being under the roof of public education.
What legal rights do teachers have in public education? They have the right to be normal citizens when acting in a capacity outside of being a teacher. Freedom of speech and expression - this is what every citizen of the most democratic country in the world, the United States of America. But is this subject to what profession a person chooses to have? Does being a public school teacher mean partially diminishing such right?
In a case decided by the Supreme Court, it was held that "a teacher's exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment." The facts of this case is that a teacher was terminated because he wrote to a local newspaper a letter with words of criticism against the Board of Education on its methods of raising revenue for schools.
What legal rights do teachers have in public education? To not be restricted in terms of choosing schools for their children, in testifying against the Board of Education or for leading Bible studies outside the school… These are legal rights of teachers that can not be constrained or diminished for reasons that they chose the teaching profession. This is why the lower courts stuck down school policies restricting the teachers to exercise their related thereto.
Outside of school premises, acting as a normal citizen, a public school teacher should be equally treated and protected. But inside the school premises, assuming the function of a school teacher, a model and educator to young people no less, schools have the right to uphold higher standards among them.
In a case decided by the Supreme Court, it was held that restrictions imposed by schools are not in violation of the teachers freedom of speech and expression if the exercise thereof is "materially and substantially interfer[ing] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school," or if it "[collides] with the rights of others."
Furthermore, the Supreme Court said that "undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression," and that such rights can not be diminished and compromised only for reasons of avoiding "discomfort and unpleasantness."
These statements from the wise justices of the Supreme Court is therefore short of saying that the right to speech and expression are the presumption and to defeat that presumption, the reasons must be included in the few exceptions provided for by the Supreme Court.
The United States is a democratic country. Just like many other countries, rich or poor, developing or long-been developed, this country has fought for their freedom in one way or another. Some in a peaceful manner; some in a defensive way, not letting anyone to even attempt to make a move to snatch their rights to their lands; and some, through war when thousands of people die in the name of freedom.
So what legal rights do teachers have in public education? The answer is that the legal rights teachers have in public education are the same rights they have from the very start. Freedom of speech and expression are 2 of the most basic and most important rights bestowed by the state to its people. This can never be compromised and diminished if only to keep a harmonious-looking situation. The only thing that will defeat it is, as in any other case, if the exercise of the same is no longer consistent with other people's rights, and if the function that a person voluntarily assumed is already compromised. Other than these reasons, freedom should be upheld and no words of feeling shall ever be suppressed.