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The Constitution does not entitle teachers to present personal views to captive audiences against the instructions of elected officials.
Deborah Mayer worked for one year as a probationary elementary-school teacher in Monroe County, Indiana. When the school district did not renew her contract for a second year, Mayer filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, maintaining that the school system let her go because she took a political stance during a current-events session in her class, thus violating the first amendment. Mayer answered a pupil's question about whether she participated in political demonstrations by saying that, when she passed a demonstration against this nation's military operations in Iraq and saw a placard saying "Honk for Peace", she honked her car's horn to show support for the demonstrators. Some parents complained, and the school's principal told all teachers not to take sides in any political controversy. Mayer believes that this incident led the school system to dismiss her. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. Mayer argued on appeal that the balance under Pickering weighed in her favor. Defendants contended that interest balancing played no role when the speech in question was part of the employee's official duties. Mayer conceded that the current events session, conducted during class hours, was part of her official duties.
Did the school system violate the first amendment when it allegedly let Mayer go because she took a political stance during a current events session in her class?
The court held that public-school teachers had to hew to the approach prescribed by principals and others higher up in the chain of authority. Further, beyond the fact that teachers hired out their own speech and had to provide the service for which employers were willing to pay was the fact that the pupils were a captive audience. The Constitution did not entitle teachers to present personal views to captive audiences against the instructions of elected officials.