A year ago, Brad McQueen, a Tucson, Ariz. elementary public school teacher, spoke out against the new Common Core standards that are being implemented in Arizona schools. Brad was selected by the Arizona Department of Education to serve on teacher Common Core committees and discovered some unsettling details that he wished to bring to the public’s attention.
Instead of objectivity and tolerance, Brad’s concerns were met with disrespect and, ultimately, retaliation. Emails flew around the Department of Education within days of Brad going public with his concerns. One Department employee wrote to another, “Thank you. We have made a note in his record.” Another referred to Brad with disparagement and profanity.
Over the past five years, Brad has participated in a many teacher committees at the request of the Department of Education. Some have nothing to do with the Common Core, but focus on helping transition non-native English speakers into the classroom. These committees supplemented his teaching income. But since he came out against the Common Core, Brad has not received a single invitation to sit on any committee.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects government employees from retaliation by their government employer if they speak as private citizens on matters of public concern. The Arizona Constitution gives even greater speech rights than the United States Constitution. In other words, the government cannot remove Brad from committees simply because he disagrees with a position of some at the Department of Education.
One of the gravest consequences of this bureaucratic retaliation is invisible and easily overlooked. Other teachers likely know Brad’s story and saw first-hand what happened to him. They witnessed their colleague speak out and then lose a source of income. These teachers now realize that they work in a culture of intimidation and fear and may hesitate to voice their own opinions after seeing Brad face consequences for his speech. The other teachers who feel the same as Brad must see that this type of retaliation by the Department has legal consequences. Otherwise, fear will trump truth in this debate.
At the same time, public school teachers who have pro-Common Core views have the same First Amendment rights as those with anti-Common Core views and should feel just as safe voicing their opinions. Choosing to work for the government does not and should not require public school teachers to give up their free speech rights.
At the end of the day, isn’t it most important to let parents have all the information we have about Common Core? Parents need to hear all sides of this debate so that they can make informed decisions about their children’s education. Our history is filled with examples of information that the public needs to know before being pre-screened by bureaucrats. The NSA’s secret surveillance of millions of Americans is a good example.
The Goldwater Institute is representing Brad in a lawsuit against the Department of Education officials who retaliated against him for failing to tow the party line on Common Core.
We are asking the Department to remove any negative information about Brad’s opposition to the Common Core from his records and we want him to have the opportunity to rejoin committees that have nothing to do with Common Core.
We seek a victory not only for Brad, but for every public school teacher so that they can speak, debate, challenge each other’s viewpoints, and have an honest dialogue about what is happening in our classrooms without fear.
Courtney Van Cott is an attorney at the Goldwater Institute