The last thing that Randi Weingarten thought when she decided to challenge the Chancellor's Regulation dealing with political expression in the classroom was that the court would provide additional legal precedent for teacher access to staff mailboxes.
As much of the media has reported Judge Lewis Kaplan has denied the UFT's request for a preliminary injunction seeking the overturn of the Chancellor's Regulation dealing with political expression in the classroom and elsewhere in schools. The DOE sought to prohibit all forms of political expression in the schools including leafleting mailboxes and posting political literature on Union bulletin boards. As predicted in this Blog Judge Kaplan saw no merit in the Union's position on campaign buttons in the classroom but found the constitutional challenge to the mailbox and bulletin board prohibition compelling and ordered that the DOE not prohibit access to those areas without student access. The Court held,
"Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction is granted to the extent that defendants are hereby enjoined, pending the determination of this action, from enforcing the Regulation to the extent that it prohibits (I) posting materials containing candidate-related political content on UFT bulletin boards located in areas closed to students and (2) placing materials containing candidate related political content in staff mailboxes. It is denied in all other respects."
For many years teacher and opposition access to staff mailboxes has enjoyed legal protection but has often been interfered with by misguided principals and Unity Chapter Leaders. Despite clear precedent in Baizerman and Chancellor Directives opposition caucuses have been harassed and prevented from distributing their political literature in staff mailboxes. While things were better during union election times there clearly was no legal difference between distributing literature in either period.
In the recent case, Weingarten v. Board of Education (full decision) Judge Kaplan decided that mailbox access was constitutionally protected, even on the weak record that was before him. The Judge rejected the DOE's argument that mailbox access would interfere with school business and held that teacher 1st Amendment rights outweighed the alleged speculation of disruption. The Court reasoned,
"The Regulation, as construed by the Chancellor, permits the distribution through teachers' school mailboxes of partisan political literature so long as that literature is an integral part of regularly published union newsletters or newspapers. I fail to see a permissible basis for distinguishing between political advocacy in union newsletters and in other campaign literature.
"Furthermore, the rationale offered by defendants - "leafleting" through the mailboxes might overwhelm a school's ability to review and distribute mail - does not appear on the record before me to be a reasonable justification for a blanket bar on the union delivering candidate-related materials in mailboxes that are not open to students."
We are confident that the 1st Amendment applies with equal force to opposition caucus members. We call upon Randi and her crack legal team to continue the fight for our precious rights no matter how unintended they may be!