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Politics in class: what you should know

The November elections are important for my classroom and students. Are public school employees able to participate in political activities?

Public school employees are free to exercise their rights as citizens to engage in political activities, but they must avoid involving their schools and students.

Under state statute, students should not be required to convey or deliver materials advocating the election or defeat of any candidate for public office, referendum question, or any matter before a school board, local governing body, General Assembly, or Congress of the United States.

In May 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that posters in a classroom are subject to school control. What a teacher says and posts on boards in class is considered to be school-sponsored speech. So campaign literature, buttons, or posters don't belong in classrooms or on school grounds (except on Election Day when a school may serve as a polling place). It's OK to display a VEA or political sticker on the car you park at school, but save other signs and messages for home.

Treatment of political issues in the curriculum requires special care. Remember that the Court considers everything that a teacher does and says in the classroom to be school-sponsored curriculum. The grade level and subject you teach affect whether and how you can raise political issues. A government teacher has more latitude to engage students in discussion of political issues or to stage a mock election, for example, as long as the lessons fit the approved curriculum. Teachers in other content areas would likely be on shakier ground.

Before you go forward with lessons that include political content, consider the Standards of Learning, grade and subject curriculum, and procedures for getting materials or classroom guests approved. Depending on your local procedures, you may need to have your principal's advance approval as well. Be sure to review school board policies and regulations to understand specific employment responsibilities and restrictions. Your local VEA-NEA UniServ Director can help you find and go over your schools specific dos and don'ts.

VEA urges citizens to register and vote, and we encourage school employees to exercise their rights and influence the public debate by contributing money or volunteering their off-duty time to serve campaigns and candidates. You might consider donating to VEA-PAC, which pools the voluntary donations of our members and works to elect pro-education candidates.

Politics plays a huge role in the funding your school receives, as well as the standards for students and employees. You're wise to get involved to elect leaders who support public education.


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