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Teachers' Rights

Welcome to FindLaw’s Teacher's Rights section, where you can find information and resources on the rights of teachers in public schools. Teachers have the same basic rights as others -- such as the right to be free from discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin -- as well as the right to academic freedom to teach without undue restrictions on content or subject matter. Educators, like other employees, also have the right to collectively bargain through teachers’ unions. This section includes articles on the process of joining a teacher's union and resolving union conflicts. Also included are articles on contracts, tenure, dismissal, and much more.

Overview of Teachers' Rights

Teachers have several rights and protections that are both common to all employees (such as protections from age and pregnancy discrimination) and specific to the teaching profession (academic freedom). These include the following:

Discrimination

Public school teachers are protected from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and national origin by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Teachers also are protected from discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, adding color and religion to the list of protected classes, amended in 1972 to include educational institutions. In addition, the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace (which includes educational institutions).

Academic Freedom

Teachers must stick to the curriculum, but are guaranteed certain freedoms from undue restrictions on content or discussions. But while these freedoms are rooted in the First Amendment, teachers may not promote any particular personal or political agenda.

Freedom of Expression and Association

The U.S. Supreme Court determined in 1968 that teachers have a constitutionally guaranteed right to speak on issues of public importance in a case involving a teacher who was fired for criticizing his employer in a newspaper editorial. However, this speech may not material disrupt the educational environment or adversely affect working relationships.

Also, teachers may freely associate and form professional organizations and labor unions. However, the rights of teacher unions to collectively bargain has been undermined by some state governments.

Tenure and Dismissal

Most states have tenure statutes that protect public school teachers from arbitrary termination, which means the district must show cause before dismissing a teacher. Also, these laws typically require that certain procedures are followed, including a hearing at which the teacher may defend against these claims. Despite some confusion over tenure, it does not provide indefinite employment but rather removes the "at-will" aspect of employment for teachers who have achieved tenure.

Assuming all proper procedures are followed, a teacher may be dismissed for incompetence, dereliction of duty, immoral conduct, conviction of a crime, insubordination, fraud, and other such reasons.

Click on a link below to learn more about the rights of teachers under federal and state laws.