After receiving numerous complaints from Providence Public School teachers, the ACLU of RI has sent a letter to RI Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, calling on RIDE to revise the school district’s “Social Media for Employees” policy that the letter argues infringes on teachers’ free speech rights.
The letter specifically takes issue with two sections of the policy which the ACLU argues are vague and overly broad and could have a “chilling effect on the private free speech rights of District employees.” Of particular note is Section 2(f) of the policy, which states that the school district may
take appropriate responsive action when it becomes aware of, or reasonably suspects, conduct or communication on a personal social media account that adversely impacts the PPSD learning or workplace environment, or violates city, state, or federal laws.
The letter points out that just about any post that is critical of a school or district could be construed as adversely impacting the work environment. The letter continues:
But government workers retain basic First Amendment rights to speak out in their non-official capacity on employment-related issues that involve matters of public concern…. Indeed, as professionals with knowledge about the topic, it is clearly in the public interest that they be able to express their views about educational and school matters without having to fear possible discipline or retaliation.
According to complaints the ACLU has received, teachers have purportedly been reprimanded under the policy for calling attention on social media to such things as unsafe or substandard school facilities. Given the decades-long battle to improve conditions in Providence schools, the letter states that “this is precisely the sort of information of public concern that [employees] have a right to inform the community about.”
The policy is supposed to be signed and submitted by tomorrow, but the ACLU’s letter concludes by calling on RIDE to revise the two problematic provisions of the policy, and extend the date for employees to return it. Although the policy has been in effect for several years, some teachers are concerned about signing the policy it in light of actions taken against other teachers under it.