Social media is a protected form of free speech: for everybody, even for teachers

Feb. 22, 2024, 4:18 p.m. | By Giorgia Toti | 3 months, 3 weeks ago

MCPS should not regulate teachers' social media

Social media post gains attention, image created by Alisha Wu Photo courtesy of Alisha Wu.

MCPS recently put two middle school teachers, Sabrina Khan-Williams of Tilden Middle School (TMS) and Angela Wolf of Takoma Park Middle School (TPMS), on leave due to social media posts discussing the Israel and Palestine conflict. Khan-Williams spread misinformation that claimed Israel was harvesting the organs of Palestinians and that the Hamas attack on Israel wasn't real. Wolf reshared a comic that expressed support for Palestine and a post in support of bus drivers who refused to drive Zionists to a pro-Israel rally. TPMS, where Wolf worked, claimed these posts were anti-semetic and “have undermined our school's values of respect and belonging.” TMS had a similar response

These statements are hypocritical. MCPS's core values of respect explicitly entail listening to others’ views with openness. In condemning these teachers for their posts the county is ignoring its own values. MCPS should not be able to punish employees for expressing their opinions on social media. Every teacher deserves the right to post their beliefs without fear of losing their job. 

The MCPS Employee Code of Conduct, which MCPS has encouraged teachers to re-read, doesn’t have a section on the use of social media. Besides prohibiting staff from contacting students through social media, MCPS asks employees to “recognize that criminal, dishonest, and other inappropriate activities may have an adverse impact on your employment with MCPS.” The document does not discuss anything on politics and only asks that staff are respectful of others opinions. 

There is nothing in teacher contracts about social media and very little in the training modules done at the beginning of the year. “[The modules] definitely have stuff about hate speech… [but] I can't say that… there was a big takeaway about social media, specifically,” Blair English teacher Leigh Tinsley says. MCPS' investigation of Wolf and Khan-Williams highlights significant holes in the writing of the code of conduct and teacher training surrounding opinions and political views. 

In the most recent case, Wolf didn't spread misinformation but Khan-Williams did. The spread of misinformation is serious. It can lead to distrust in the media, conspiracy theories, and more. While teachers should face investigations and consequences for spreading misinformation, only extreme cases should warrant a firing. If accidental there should be a warning but the employee should not be fired. 

In Wolf’s case, reposts of a political cartoon and the praise of bus drivers may be controversial, but they are opinions. No one will ever fully agree with another person's opinions or politics. Most people often find things offensive if opinions differ. Even if the Board of Education decides to rewrite the Code of Conduct making it explicitly clear under which circumstances employees are allowed to express their opinions on social media, MCPS should not be able to penalize teachers for expressing their opinions—which are normally a guaranteed constitutional right—simply because they posted on a social media platform.

Social media is supposed to be a place where people share their opinions and engage in discussions on issues that matter to them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Teachers share opinions but tend to receive more backlash from parents who do not agree with their views. This is evident in the way politicians fight over what teachers can discuss in schools, how they act, and what they do in their personal life. This extends to social media. Despite this, MCPS does not have the right to try and silence teachers just because their posts might be unpopular. 

Blair French teacher Ndona Kanza understands the need to regulate professional social media but believes that all teachers have a right to post what they want on personal accounts. “[For] professional [social media], I’m all for [regulation]. I understand that. With a private one, that’s my private life. Political, opinion, and all the other things like that—no. We have the right to have a private life,” Kanza says. 

On many social media platforms, accounts can be placed in a private setting where only followers can view posts. Personal and private accounts are made so people can share their views and are a reflection of someone's personal views, not the schools. Posts made on private or personal accounts should not be able to be regulated by a person’s employer. 

The forced leave of absences in MCPS are especially unacceptable for a country that has made so much progress through free speech. “It's upsetting because this country has a long history of civil rights movement, all of which has had controversy... but it was through our protected rights to protest that we were able to make any progress over the course of history,” Rawda Fawaz, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says. Punishing people for protesting on social media reverses that progress.

Teachers especially should not be reprimanded for expressing their opinions as they are responsible for teaching students how to be open-minded and think critically. Classrooms tend to be echo chambers of the same opinions, especially areas like Montgomery County, where many people share the same views. Echo chambers can get dangerous because they spread misinformation and distort perspectives. Discourse, whether it's in the classroom or on a social media platform, can negate the effect of echo chambers and help create an understanding between disparate opinions.

Teachers can and should still post their opinions on social media. In an effort to limit the amount of fallout, teachers can use objective statements to express their opinions. “Continue to post things that are grounded in facts, like the news reports, numbers… one way to try to avoid misinformation or someone misinterpreting what you said, is to focus on the facts,” Fawaz says. 

This country has made so much progress because people are willing to confront uncomfortable topics. Without discussion of controversial topics equal rights movements in race, gender, and sexuality never would have made any progress. “Social justice movements are able to exist and make any progress because we know we’re in a country that values free speech and freedom of expression… Otherwise, how would anything that is important or problematic come to light if we can't even talk about it?” Fawaz says.

Last updated: Feb. 22, 2024, 5:28 p.m.

Giorgia Toti. Hello! I am Giorgia Toti, a junior at MBHS, and this is my first year as a writer on Silver Chips Online. Along with a love of writing I am a part of Girl Scouts and am finishing my final Gold Award project, a coxswain … More »

Show comments


Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.