From the Gotham Gazette:
Public school teachers have constitutional rights to wear political buttons while in school, according to the United Federation of Teachers. But not according to the United States District Court in Manhattan.
In Weingarten v. Board of Education, a case first brought in 2008, a presidential election year, the plaintiffs, United Federation of Teachers and several individual teachers, claimed that the school chancellor’s regulations banning campaign buttons and distribution of political materials among teachers in Board of Education buildings, i.e., schools, violated the teachers' free speech rights under the federal and state constitutions. (The case refers to the Board of Education throughout -- not the Department of Education.)
The chancellor's regulations provided that "while on duty or in contact with students, all school personnel should maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates.” The regulation also banned the distribution, posting, of displaying of "material supporting any candidate, candidates, slate of candidates, or political organizations/committees" in any school building. While there were exceptions for political items of interest that might appear in teachers’ newsletters, for example, the regulation generally prevented teachers from placing political material in colleagues' mailboxes or on teachers’ bulletin boards in teachers' meeting places.
[Judge Lewis A.] Kaplan found plaintiffs' contentions lacked merit and dismissed the suit without it ever going to trial. In his written opinion, he said that policy makers overseeing "public schools are constitutionality permitted, within reason, to regulate the speech of teachers in the classroom for legitimate pedagogical reasons." The court then concluded that the appearance of political buttons worn by teachers, "may improperly influence children and impinge on the rights of students to learn in an environment free of partisan political influence."
The judge found that the regulation, when carried out in a professional manner and in good faith, is not a "covert attempt to favor one viewpoint over another." After more than a year of litigation, he declared the regulations to be constitutional.