Manhattan School District 114 believes a child’s education should be held hostage to their parent’s willingness to give up First Amendment rights. The district, which serves the Village of Manhattan, Illinois, established a new policy for the 2021-22 school year: any students required to quarantine would be allowed to attend class via Zoom, but only if their parents agreed to a “Parent Contract for Quarantined Student Livestreaming.” The “Contract” explained that quarantined students would only be allowed to learn if their parents agreed not to post recordings of live-streamed lessons on social media, or comment at all on teachers, or the lessons taught, on social media.
There are privacy concerns with live-streaming classes: a recording may well include students other than a particular parent’s child, who may not want to become an unwitting star on social media. But the district’s policy is not limited to protecting the privacy of students. It limits not just recordings, but “comment[ing] on lessons or teachers” in any way. It is intended to shield teachers from criticism. A parent who, wandering by their child’s laptop, discovers that the teacher is advocating controversial ideas may not ever mention this fact publicly—no matter how radical, racist, offensive, immoral, or disreputable the teacher’s lesson. Nor can a parent point out that their child’s teacher is incompetent, or slacking off, or drunk on the job. Any parent who dare exercise their right to speak will see their child’s “Zoom privileges,” and therefore their ability to learn, revoked.
In response to this blatant violation of parents’ right to free speech, the Liberty Justice Center sent a letter to district Superintendent Russell Ragon on September 2, 2021. The letter advised the school district that the Parent Contract violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. The right to criticize government officials belongs to all Americans, and it should not be violated because teachers are unwilling to be subject to criticism. LJC’s letter asked that the district rescind the policy, and to confirm it would do so by September 8, 2021. Since then, the school’s superintendent has agreed to revise the agreement to ensure that the free speech rights of parents and students are respected and protected.
A copy of the letter to Manhattan School District 114 is available here.