6/30/16 Bill could affect teachers’ speech rights

Bill could affect teachers’ speech rights
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 6/30/16  
Reprinted with permission.      

   The public comments portion of Monday night’s Alamance-Burlington School Board meeting was dominated by a concerned teacher.

   Arielle Hogarth, who is going into her 12th year teaching U.S. history and psychology at Eastern Alamance High School, urged the board to pay attention to Article 36A of N.C. Senate Bill 867, which is titled “Riots, Civil Disorders, and Emergencies,” and states that teachers who are “at the scene of … disorderly conduct by an assemblage of three or more persons, following a command to disperse,” may lose their teaching licenses.

   In short, teacher protests could have dire consequences. Hogarth cited a recent protest in Raleigh as an example of the damage that could be done if the bill is passed.

   “I’m sure you’re aware that almost two weeks ago, 14 education activists were arrested for blocking a street in Raleigh,” Hogarth told the board. “I am proud to be friends and colleagues with many of the people that were on the street that day, and I think in a state where we have lost our due process … for teachers across the state, and even in our county, who are fearful to exercise their freedom of speech, this piece in Senate Bill 867 will silence teachers whom we need to hear from.”

   The main goal of the bill is to create stricter background checks for people applying for teaching licenses, defining criminal history in terms of homicide, rape, assaults, kidnapping, malicious injury, etc. As a whole, the bill is a justified attempt at making schools safer for kids. Hogarth said she supports the bill’s goal but believes the civil disobedience article is a step too far.

   “This is one more step against teachers to keep them quiet,” she said. “That’s not democracy, that’s not our country, that’s not what we advocate for our kids to do. Those teachers were standing up for their students, and their schools, and other educators.”

   Superintendent Bill Harrison agreed.

   “This piece of legislation is so much like what’s come through the Senate [lately],” Harrison said. “It kind of sneaks in on a pretty fast track, and they’re passing pieces of it that just aren’t good.”

   Harrison added that he had sent numerous emails to legislators, voicing concerns about 36A and other issues, and would continue to do so to make sure the school board is actively advocating for the needs of teachers.

   The Senate unanimously passed the bill in early June. It’s now being reviewed in the House.