Federal Judge dismisses First Amendment suit filed by Pa. teacher

By Jim Boyle | Jul 30, 2014

A federal judge at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania says that

a Bucks County teacher’s First Amendment right to free speech was not violated when a school board terminated her employment in 2012.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe wrote in her opinion dismissing the case that her blog writings in 2011 were of a more personal nature and failed to benefit the public good.

The controversial personal blog posts published by Natalie Munroe while she taught in the Central Bucks School District were thrust into the public eye in 2011 after links began circulating around parents and students. The posts used harsh language to describe unnamed students in her class, including names and phrases such as ‘jerk’ and ‘There’s no other way to say this: I hate your kid.’

The posts set off a firestorm that garnered national media attention and created a tense atmosphere in the school district. In June 2012, the school board unanimously approved her termination on the grounds of poor classroom performance, not the blog posts.

However, according to the suit, Munroe received positive feedback in her job evaluations from her supervisors in 2008. When the blog posts came to light, she was placed on a rigorous performance improvement plan and received multiple unsatisfactory reports, leading up to her termination. Munroe’s attorneys hold that the performance plan and subsequent evaluations were in retaliation for the blogs, a charge that school officials denied at the time.

In the opinion, Rufe says that public employees’ First Amendment Rights to free speech are held to a different standard when criticizing their workplace. Rather than using her personal experiences to expand upon larger issues such as testing and grading standards, Munroe took the opportunity to vent about her students and their behavior, contributing little to the public debate.

Additionally, the opinion says, when Munroe’s blogs became public knowledge, it damaged her relationship with the students and harmed the school district’s ability to conduct its business of educating children.

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