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Teachers' Rights Basics

Teachers are protected from certain harms under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Teachers have the right to be free from discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin -- as well as freedom of expression, academics, privacy, and religion. The concept of academic freedom can sometimes be open to interpretation. After all, most teachers value the ability to teach without undue restrictions on content or subject matter. This section focuses on these and other freedoms and rights teachers enjoy, as well as state and local laws affecting teacher's rights. Click on the links below to learn more.

Teacher's Rights: Overview

Teachers receive a number of protections under the law in order to ensure that they are protected from unconstitutional harms and in order to guard their ability to effectively provide the critical service of educating our communities' children. Important protections for teachers include:

  • Freedom from Discrimination - The Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause protects public school teachers from discrimination based on race, sex, and national origin. Additional protections from discrimination are found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which also forbids workplace sexual harassment.
  • Academic Freedom - The First Amendment protects teachers' right to freedom of expression, however this is quite limited. Protected speech must be relevant to and consistent with the teacher's responsibilities, and the teacher cannot promote a personal or political agenda in the classroom.
  • Freedom of Association - Teachers' freedom of association is protected by the First Amendment and gives teachers the right to join professional, labor, and other organizations. They may also run for public office and similar forms of association, though participation in these activities must be independent of their responsibilities at school.
  • Freedom of Religion - The First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act protect against religious discrimination by school districts against teachers. Schools are restricted against teaching religion, but teachers' right to the religion of their choosing is protected.
  • Privacy Rights -Teachers enjoy limited privacy rights, but where a teacher's private acts impact their effectiveness the school may take action.
  • Age - Teachers over 40 are protected against age discrimination. If charged with age discrimination the school has the burden of showing that some factor other than age influenced their decision.
  • Pregnancy - School cannot dismiss or demote a pregnant teacher on the basis of their pregnancy, or deny a job or promotion to a pregnant teacher.

Teachers' Rights: Contracts

Contracts between teachers and school districts are ruled by the general law of contracts, which provides concepts such as offer, acceptance, mutual assent, and consideration. However, contracting within the context of schools and teachers has some important distinctions from the general rules of contracts.

Schools may require a school board to ratify a contract before it becomes binding, so that even if a teacher it told they are hired the contract is not final until the school district ratifies the contract. On the other hand, some teachers have successfully argued that the provisions of a teacher's handbook amount to a contract, allowing them to enforce terms against the school.