Public School Teacher’s Facebook Page vs. Same-Sex Marriage

Mount Dora High School social studies department chair Jerry Buell has been suspended from his teaching position, following a Facebook post that expressed a strong opinion against same-sex marriage. And as a gay man who looks forward to one day marrying a same-sex partner and living happily ever after, I have to say… That is MESSED UP, taking away his job for this.

Allegedly Mr. Buell posted a status update saying, “I’m watching the news, eating dinner, when the story about the New York okaying same sex unions came on and I almost threw up.” My first reaction upon reading that was to shake my head in disappointment at what I consider to be an antiquated bigoted view, a repulsed reaction based on learned prejudice that has no business in the 21st century… But certainly not, “That man has no business teaching in a public high school.”

Sure, I don’t support the opinion/reaction that he allegedly expressed. And yes, I think it’s sad that a schoolteacher — who almost certainly teaches some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or just plain “questioning” teenagers — would have such negative thoughts, much less express them on Facebook for his entire personal network to read. But just because I disagree with his views doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective teacher in school.

If Mr. Buell said something like that in a classroom, I’d be the first person having a fit about it. If he said something negative about LGBT people in any context to his students, I’d be upset. But he was at home, on his own time, on his personal computer, on his personal Facebook page, making a general (though arguably distasteful) statement about his personal opinion on a controversial political/religious topic.

Does being a schoolteacher mean you’re not allowed to express personal opinions outside of the classroom? Do you leave your First Amendment rights behind 24×7 when you get hired by the school district? Do we really expect teachers to never have personal thoughts that may be contrary to what one or more groups of people believe is right for American society?

I may not like what he has to say, but I think he should have every right to say it in the privacy of his own home, to his personal network of family and friends. (And to those who argue, “What if he has students who are his Facebook friends?” I say a schoolteacher shouldn’t have teenagers connected to his/her Facebook account unless he/she maintains a separate school-only page with strictly professional content.)

Based on the Facebook status update attributed to Jerry Buell, I’m guessing I wouldn’t want to be lifelong friends with the man… But if he does a good job as a teacher, and he maintains a professional and respectful demeanor when in the classroom, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be allowed to teach history to high school kids.

What do YOU think? Reply below — I’m curious to hear the arguments on both sides of this issue.

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One Response to Public School Teacher’s Facebook Page vs. Same-Sex Marriage

  1. Mark Pappalardo says:

    Kevin, for the most part I agree with you but here is where my view diverges. As a teacher, he is a public figure within his community and as such he should hold himself to a higher standard in what he says and does and where he chooses to voice his opinions, knowing the potential impact and pitfalls of doing so. Just as employees, especially officers of a company are held to higher standards in how they comport themselves in the public, even when not officially representing who they work for, the teacher’s facebook post was a public airing of his opinion. Since the opinion resulted in his suspension, there had to be someone on his page that took exception to the comment. It could have been another teacher or community figure. The fact that it became such a big issue now impacts his students and colleagues, some of whom may be in the LGBT community or a youth struggling with his/her orientation/identity. To have to confront a teacher that harbors such thoughts everyday as a student has to be even more traumatic knowing what he thinks of them though he would never likely voice the comment within the school walls.

    While he is absolutley entitled to his opinions and is free to speak them, he is also responsible for them and the results of those opinions, in how the end up affecting him.

    By the way I enjoy reading all of your blog posts.

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