NY judge says 'no' to teacher campaign buttons

October 17, 2008 5:38:30 PM PDT
The city can continue to ban public school teachers from wearing political campaign buttons in schools, but it cannot stop them from posting political content on union bulletin boards or distributing it in teacher mailboxes, a judge ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said the policy by the schools of banning campaign buttons seemed to reflect a good faith judgment by the Board of Education about the impact of teachers' political campaign buttons rather than a covert attempt to favor one viewpoint over another.

The teachers had asked for a speedy preliminary ruling in a lawsuit brought a week earlier claiming that the schools' policy violated their free speech rights.

The judge may hear more evidence at a later date, depending on whether the teachers' union or the Board of Education choose to ask for a permanent ruling that would establish legal precedent.

Both sides claimed victory with the decision.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in an interview that the union likely will decide after the election whether to pursue the lawsuit to further clarify constitutional law on the subject.

She said she was glad the judge ruled that the union could at least distribute political materials on its bulletin boards and in mailboxes.

"It's an important decision both here and throughout the United States. I'm very gratified the judge was diligent and issued this preliminary decision within a week," Weingarten said.

"I was very concerned that there was this blanket ban on every type of communication we did," she said.

She said she was disappointed the union had to resort to a lawsuit since it had already pledged that teachers would not wear campaign buttons in the classrooms.

In a statement, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said he was pleased the court agreed teachers can be banned from wearing political buttons in schools.

"Keeping politics out of the classroom was our primary concern here, and our position has been fully vindicated," he said.

The UFT lists a membership of about 200,000, including 74,000 teachers. The city's public schools have about 1.1 million pupils.

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