May a teacher refuse to teach certain materials in class if she feels the curriculum infringes on her personal beliefs?
Generally, teachers must instruct their students in accordance with the established curriculum. For example, the Ninth Circuit ruled in 1994 against a high school biology teacher who had challenged his school district’s requirement that he teach evolution, as well as its order barring him from discussing his religious beliefs with students. In the words of the court, "[a] school district's restriction on [a] teacher's right of free speech in prohibiting [the] teacher from talking with students about religion during the school day, including times when he was not actually teaching class, [is] justified by the school district's interest in avoiding [an] Establishment Clause violation."1
More recently, a state appeals court ruled again that a high school teacher did not have a First Amendment right to refuse to teach evolution in a high school biology class.2 The teacher had argued that the school district had reassigned him to another school and another course because it wanted to silence his criticism of evolution as a viable scientific theory. The state appeals court rejected that argument, pointing out that the teacher could not override the established curriculum.
Other courts have similarly found that teachers do not have a First Amendment right to trump school district decisions regarding the curriculum.3 One court wrote: "the First Amendment has never required school districts to abdicate control over public school curricula to the unfettered discretion of individual teachers."4 More recently, the Fourth Circuit ruled that a teacher had "no First Amendment right to insist on the makeup of the curriculum."5
Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F. 3rd 517 (9th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1173 (1995).
LeVake v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 656, 625 N.W.2d 502 (Minn. App. 2001), cert. denied, 122 S. Ct. 814 (2002).
Clark v. Holmes, 474 F.2d 928 (7th Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 972 (1973); Webster v. New Lenox Sch. Dist. No. 122, 917 F.2d 1004 (7th Cir. 1990).
Kirkland v. Northside Independent Sch. Dist., 890 F.2d 794 (5th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 926 (1990).
Boring v. Buncombe County Bd. of Education, 136 F.3d 364 (4th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 813 (1998) (teacher had no First Amendment right to select particular play for students to perform).
Saturday, February 6, 2016 | 11:31:13