The Camas High School student handbook consists of fifty-two pages filled with hundreds of rules and regulations for students, but when it comes to what teachers can or cannot say, post or display, what are the rules in the classroom for teachers?
Students may be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, no singular rulebook for teachers when it comes to what is or is not allowed in the classroom. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides some guidelines for teachers. “Generally, the First Amendment protects your speech if you are speaking in an official capacity (within the duties of your job). Your speech will not have the same protection. What you say or communicate inside the classroom is considered speech from the school district and therefore will not be entitled much protection.”
So, that covers free speech, but what about free speech in the form of what is displayed in the classrooms of CHS? Former CHS Principal Steve Marshall says out of his near-decade running CHS, the issue only came up a handful of times. Sometimes administrators may be alerted to items in a teacher’s room by getting an anonymous note from either students or other teachers. Administrators walk around the school to check on classrooms to make sure that they are not breaking any of the guidelines.
English teacher Katie Seidl has a poster that says “Out Is In” and a poster that is for the “#Me too” movement. She says she “never had anyone complain about it, but I have had people ask about it. It is a great conversation starter because it means different things for different students.” Seidl also has artwork of a woman with a crown on her head that a student hung up in the main commons. Later she learned what the poster meant: “My body my choice. One student created it because she witnessed a guy at school slap a girl in the butt and said damn.” This poster was taken down just minutes after students put it up because administrators did not know what it meant.
When it comes to student opinion, it seems most students believe teachers should continue to have the freedom to decorate their classrooms. Sophomore Megan Nash says, “I think it is up to the teachers and what they believe and what they want to express. If they have posters or religious symbols I do not believe that they are trying to corrupt the students. They are just trying to show what they believe in.”
Sophomore Caleb Neal says, “I do not mind at all. It doesn’t offend me at all unless it is a religious symbol or poster that harms others, like the KKK or other cults.” This may seem like a no-brainer, but offensive posters could make their way to the school. For example, a world history teacher might have posters that depict or show symbols relating to historical events like the Holocaust or slavery. Marshall says, “if those posters make it to a math class there may be questions about how does the poster relate to what they are teaching.”
While there may not be a physical handbook for teachers about what can be in their classrooms, there are still guidelines, expectations and consequences for the decisions a teacher makes.