May a teacher refuse to teach certain materials in class if she feels the curriculum infringes on her personal beliefs?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Generally, teachers must instruct their students in accordance with the
established curriculum. For example, the 9th Circuit ruled in 1994 against a
high school biology teacher who had challenged his school district’s requirement
that he teach evolution, as well as its order barring him from discussing his
religious beliefs with students. In the words of the court, “[a] school
district’s restriction on [a] teacher’s right of free speech in prohibiting
[the] teacher from talking with students about religion during the school day,
including times when he was not actually teaching class, [is] justified by the
school district’s interest in avoiding [an] Establishment Clause violation.”
(Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School Dist., 9th Cir. 1994)

More recently, a state appeals court ruled again that a high school teacher
did not have a First Amendment right to refuse to teach evolution in a high
school biology class (LeVake v. Independent School Dist. No. 656, Minn.
App. 2001). The teacher had argued that the school district had reassigned him
to another school and another course because it wanted to silence his criticism
of evolution as a viable scientific theory. The state appeals court rejected
that argument, pointing out that the teacher could not override the established

Other courts have similarly found that teachers do not have a First
Amendment right to trump school district decisions regarding the curriculum
(Clark v. Holmes, 7th Cir. 1972, Webster v. New Lenox School Dist. No.
7th Cir. 1990). One court wrote: “the First Amendment has never
required school districts to abdicate control over public school curricula to
the unfettered discretion of individual teachers.” (Kirkland v. Northside
Independent School Dist.,
5th Cir. 1989)

More recently, the 4th Circuit ruled that a teacher had “no First Amendment
right to insist on the makeup of the curriculum.” (Boring v. Buncombe County
Bd. of Education,