By now, you may be aware of the case of suburban Pennsylvania schoolteacher Natalie Munroe, who was put on paid suspension after the less-than-flattering assessments she wrote of students in her high school class. Her blog went viral last February, prompting an investigation into whether she’d blogged from the school on company time and insulted students to the point that the school had lost faith in her ability to lead a class.
Interspersed among blog entries about her culinary triumphs and other musings, her vitriolic posts about her own students gained attention. A post from January 21st of last year became particularly notorious, in which she explained that while she would typically write “cooperative in class” on report cards, her wish list of actual comments – not limited to just students but also administrators and colleagues – were not as fit to print.
A Philadelphia magazine story notes that days after her suspension, she finally told her side of the story, saying that she never thought anyone would find the blog. She never named any kids, the school, the district or the state where she lived. She never even named herself, posting only as ‘Natalie M.,’ though she did include a personal snapshot. As the Philadelphia story detailed, “Her attorney noted that the First Amendment protected Munroe. In other words, she’d done nothing wrong.”
However, the Pennsylvania teacher’s union lists clear guidelines about what teachers should post: “Each time you post a photograph or information on the Web, make sure you would gladly show it to the following people: your mother, your students, your superintendent, the editor of the New York Times,” the story noted, adding that an employee’s speech is not protected online if “it causes disruption in the workplace.”
And what disruption it caused. Principal Abe Lucabaugh told the magazine that he’d never had so many students worrying about how their teachers felt about them, asking him, ‘Do teachers really make fun of us when we ask a lot of questions?” As he explained, most parents and teachers recognized who Munroe had cited in her posts. One mother cried to the principal about her child’s belittling by Munroe, explaining that the daughter had special needs, her father had died, she herself worked three jobs, and her child dressed the best she could.
According to the court of public opinion, Munroe was fully within her rights. An MSNBC poll of 84,000 people revealed that 96% thought Munroe should not have been suspended. And, as of last week, it appears the suspension has been lifted. Fox News reported that she’ll be reinstated to the exact school, grade and classes she had been teaching before. According to this story, she’s currently mulling over the decision with her attorney, who said, "She is taking a few days to digest this development in what has become an important national First Amendment, employment, and education case."
What do you think about Munroe’s reinstatement? She may be exercising her First Amendment rights, but as a parent would you want your child taught by an educator that seems to have a mean streak? And will reinstating her to the exact same position and classroom be a disruption rather than an exercise in fairness?