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Legally Speaking

By December 18, 2017February 7th, 2018Legal, What's New

Legally Speaking

CEAI members ask …
The answers or opinions expressed in this article are not intended to render legal advice. The factual and legal issues in each circumstance must be considered and may require the advice of an attorney.

by CEAI Executive Staff

Question

While checking the iPads in my first-grade classroom, I noticed that someone had searched the word “sex” and some very inappropriate images were displayed on eight of the iPads. I called the district’s educational technology coordinator immediately and explained my problem. After investigating, she discovered the entire district’s firewall and internet safety settings were down. I was very upset when she told me that a student in my class had searched the word “sex” and had seen these images. Thankfully, the problems were fixed, and the iPads were wiped clean. My principal reassured me that I was not at fault, but I am still very upset about what happened in my classroom. Not only do I feel concern for the student who is responsible, but I also worry that I may experience devastating consequences if this happens again. Is there anything I can do to protect myself and find out which student is responsible so they can get help?

Answer

I understand your concern for both your students’ and your own protection.

So far, you have done well. You consulted the tech experts and informed the administration. We recommend you consider also doing the following:

1. Make this issue a focus of prayer … both for the student or students exposed to the pornography and for protection for others in the future. We at the CEAI office will be praying as well.

2. Create a personal file that includes the names of people you have talked with about this, what they said, and dates if possible. If you are challenged in the future, such documentation will be very valuable.

3. Continue to be vigilant in providing oversight of the computer use. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, do not let anyone else use the specific device until you involve tech support and administration.

After taking these steps, you will have done all you can do.

I encourage you to be at peace and focus on being the best teacher possible.

Question

Can a superintendent or school board keep coaches and players from praying together before an athletic event?

Answer

A coach at a public school is considered “the government.” Based on the First Amendment of the Constitution, the government cannot establish a religion. Therefore, coaches cannot pray with students while “on duty.”

Students can lead prayer, but coaches need to refrain from doing so. The coaching staff can meet and pray together … just not with the students.

Defying such a directive from the superintendent or school board would constitute insubordination and could be justification for termination.

This may not seem right to you, but consider … if the coach practiced a religion or belief system diametrically opposed to your beliefs, would you want him leading students in prayer?

Question

If I am asked for my opinion on an issue such as sexual orientation or identity, am I legally permitted to express it? If consequently asked about my faith, am I legally allowed to confirm that I am a Christian?

Answer

The safest answer is to deflect or not answer at all. However, CEAI takes the position that a teacher may answer “Yes” to a direct question about her personal beliefs, to the same extent that a teacher may truthfully reply to any other non-school question asked by a student, such as “What is your favorite sports team?” or “Do you like chili with beans or with meat?” The teacher can answer such questions truthfully. A teacher is both an individual (in her individual capacity) and a state agent (in her official capacity).

Questions about personal beliefs should be deferred if possible to non-instructional time, and prefaced with a caveat, such as “Since you asked about my personal beliefs about SUBJECT X, my personal belief is A,B,C.” Then, the teacher should move on from that subject matter. The government has the right to require its employees to do their job on government time. However, teaching involves relationship building with students, and at times, this can involve discussion of sensitive topics.

On issues of homosexuality, sex changes, transgenderism, or the like, you can certainly present both sides of the arguments in a neutral manner when the discussion is relevant to the curriculum. If after that you are asked what side you fall on, you may answer truthfully, but again, the safest option is to deflect or not answer. However, if you feel led to answer the question, your answer should be brief, and you should move on from that subject as soon as possible. The discussion should not become all about your personal beliefs.

If you have a question about religious freedoms in public schools.

Ask An Attorney

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