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The student news site of Beachwood High School.

The Beachcomber

The student news site of Beachwood High School.

The Beachcomber

Politics in the Classroom: What Can Teachers Say?


Last month, Ohioans voted down Senate Bill 5, which had become Issue 2 on the ballot and would have had a major impact on public employees in the state. During the controversy, many teachers expressed their opposition to Issue 2 by wearing buttons and by placing signs on the walls of their classroom.

When BHS Principal Robert Hardis asked teachers to remove their signs, some began to question the rights of teachers to express personal political views in the classroom.

According to Hardis, although there is a place for political discussion within the classroom, expressing views based on partisan opinion is prohibited.

“Although teachers shouldn’t be allowed to express their personal views, they may present both sides as part of a lesson,” said Hardis.

English teacher Peter Harvan, BHS building rep. for the Beachwood Federation of Teachers (BFT), did not dispute Hardis’s request. Harvan had an anti-Issue 2 poster on display in his classroom. Like many teachers, Harvan also sported the same message in the form of a button on his clothing.

Harvan said, “My chest is my property, and this wall is the community’s property– and I had no problem removing the sign.” Harvan continued, “There’s a thin line between teaching [about political issues] and espousing your own political views. When you start to preach rather than teach, there’s a problem with that.”

Science teacher Joe Burwell, the grievance chairperson for the BFT, wrote an email describing the circumstances in which political discussion might arise in the classroom. “A student may ask a question that has some direct or tangential relevance to the class topic of discussion, and a teacher could either decide to answer it directly, or allow the student to elaborate. There can be an opportunity for learning there.”

Burwell continued, “Often a teacher will choose not to address the question if it is not relevant to course objectives.”

While teachers are not allowed to freely express political views–as they may affect the opinions of students–a student is within his or her rights to express political views in the classroom, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the learning environment.

Freshman Jon Shapiro is the co-president of the BHS Young Republicans Club, which consists of himself and three other students. Jon and his friends were seen picketing for State Issue 2 at Hilltop Elementary School on election day last month.

Even he disagreed with most teachers about Issue 2, Shapiro believes that teachers should have the right to free speech. “According to the constitution, everyone should have the right to take a stand on an issue, as long as it doesn’t interfere with how they are doing their job,” he said.

Shapiro also said, “I think that in some cases, teachers—without knowing it or doing it on purpose—may judge assignments based on the student’s opinions that may or may not conflict with the teacher’s opinion.”

Shapiro feels that teachers treat students differently based on their political views. “They might be less willing to entertain an argument,” he said.

He continued,  “I believe that if the true goal of school is to prepare us for the future, then politics DO belong in school. [However,] I do not think that teachers have the right to punish those with different views. Teachers can have their views and should have their views but that should not influence students.”

Sophomore Scott Arkin opposed State Issue 2 last month; however, he agrees with Shapiro’s position on political discussion in a school setting. He wrote in an email, “In many classes, it is appropriate to hold political discussions,” explained Arkin. “Such engagement spurs thought and reflection in students. This being said, teachers should not attempt to impose their views on students.”

Arkin agreed with others about the distinction between buttons and posters. “A button is worn on the teacher’s body, making it [his or her] personal view. Just as if a teacher wore a sports jersey, it is his or her personal opinion to root for that team and does no reflect on class lessons. A sign, however, is in the same category as things like periodic tables and educational posters, [suggesting that the view expressed] by the sign is the political angle of the class. This is inappropriate, because class criteria should not express or appear to express any political bias.”

In 2007, in the case of Deborah Mayer v. the Monroe County School District, a federal court ruled against a teacher who was not rehired after a controversy caused by her distribution of a Time magazine article about opposition to the war in Iraq. Although this most likely wouldn’t be an issue in Beachwood, it was an issue in Monroe County, Indiana and led to the teacher filing a suit against the district, which she lost, supporting the precedent that public school employees have a curriculum that is defined by the school district.

In the 1969 case of Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a student has the right to display political messages on clothing, as long as it does not create a disruption in the classroom. A very similar rule is applied to teachers and students in Beachwood and around the country. As long as the learning process is not affected, then it is permitted for a teacher to wear a button or armband on their clothing expressing political views.

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  • M

    Mary G StreeterJun 14, 2023 at 9:00 PM

    Man I live in Massachusetts and as you can imagine, MA is the first state to go blue during the elections… I’m thankful that my teachers have some respect for opposite minded students. My chemistry teacher Ralph Bledsoe spoke about politics a lot in class about events that he clearly knew little about or believe the first thing MSN or CNN had to say about it (clearly a mistake) he’s a very motivational teacher who brings a lot of school spirit to class everyday… it’s a shame he was brainwashed… I told my mom about the politics being told in school by teachers and she told the principle who told the teachers to shut up basically and they did (for the most part). The teachers would find me eventually and apologize and I forgave them although I wished It never happened, I appreciated the amount of respect the teachers had in those moments. I’m still astonished by the insane number of children my own age who follow along with mental ill insane people- Even if I don’t have friends in this high school its better than being friends with libtards. Im standing up for myself from now on… even though I was scared of my teachers lowering my grades because of biasism…

  • T

    T.K. AndersonJan 18, 2021 at 1:07 AM

    Religion has been kicked out of schools based on the fact that it is a “belief”, and on the made up narrative of “separation of church and state” which of course is not found in the Constitution. Nonetheless, and all the same, a political view is just that a “view” an opinion, a belief and an ideology. And bias is the force that drives us to push our beliefs while marginalizing opposing views. So by default, politics should never be discussed in a public school period. In addition, the Government should not be permitted to articulate any political preference, view nor advocate likewise. TEACH CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS. And watch the kids be full of amazement as they learn the truth how it no longer even applies as Central law, and the rights they never knew they had are different from the ones they want or were told they had via: academia.

  • T

    TbreslinDec 28, 2020 at 8:54 AM

    Yes the issue of teachers abusing their position as a teacher (a positive leader)exists in many schools and colleges. The funny thing is that many of these people pushing not democratic views, but clearly un educated leftist views. None of them know that in communist countries teachers don’t have any privileges, no medical, no dental, no good pension. Before you preach, please do your research. So your students can remember you later as a good person not a lying idiot.

  • L

    Lindsay G.Apr 28, 2020 at 3:38 PM

    Really, this topic is complicated. I remember my mother speaking about having to write a political paper about a dispute in her high school history class. In this, she says that her paper was decent, maybe a B- at the worst, and all of her friends seemed to agree. She got a D on her paper. When she rewrote her paper for the other side of the argument, she received an A, despite her new paper being poorly written in comparison to her first.
    She later went on to become a teacher, and never lied to me when I asked her questions. When I, in the fifth grade, noticed that my teacher was talking a lot about current events in the news when she was supposed to be teaching about fractions, I brought it up to my mom and she told me about her story from her high school. She said that she almost always, after that incident, wrote in her papers for the “side” that she noticed her teachers to be on, even if it was not the side she agreed with, because some teachers were biased enough to grade those “on their side” less harshly. (The fact that she could tell in a classroom environment is sad enough)
    She encouraged me to, if I thought that a teacher would grade this way (because -obviously- not all teachers will do this) play on the safe side for the sake of my grade. I was disheartened, but some jeering in the eighth grade after expressing my opinions in front of my classmates (however slight) made it obvious that it was not worth the argument.
    It is unfortunate that the school system could be this way at all, but in most cases it is not too extreme. In general, the previous happenings prove that politics should be discussed as little as possible in “modern” context, because of the way they work. People with more power in an environment will (pretty much) always use it, just as people will always argue back and forth in regards to politics. When teachers try to force their opinions on others, it just leaves that person feeling attacked, the people nearby feeling awkward, and the teacher themselves gaining nothing but a person who has lost some respect for them, because they wont shut up about things that don’t matter at school.
    Most of the time, the problem is not what teachers say, but how they say it.
    “Lindsay, do you really believe that?” and similar remarks do nothing but waste important class time.

    TLDR: Please talk about politics as little as possible in a classroom environment. You don’t have to support “your side” at work. Stop forcing students into uncomfortable positions based on their personal political views, which are 90% based on their parents’ views in almost all cases.

    Other comments to this article show that it’s a waste of time in the classroom. (Caden Reed, Joseph Herman, unnecessary harassment and forcing of views, Victoria King, whose teacher was wasting time, and Christopher M. Towers, who was wasting everyone else’s time ;P)

  • C

    Caden ReedMar 2, 2020 at 12:40 PM

    I am a freshman in high school in a little town in Vermont. Of course with Bernie being our senator many people, including teachers, have a left-leaning/democratic socialistic agenda. I am Pro-Trump and whenever I express how I feel using clothing or another device many of my teachers shoot me down calling me racist, sexist, and/or homophobic. It leaves me feeling awful and I hate it.

    • M

      Mary G StreeterJun 14, 2023 at 8:51 PM

      you’re becoming a senior now, right? if your still in the town in Vermont in the same high school ask for a meeting with the board including the teachers that called you out. Respectfully ask them why they called you all those things and when they start yapping and yapping give them a taste of their own medicine. guilt trip them into having to apologize get them fired. people like that don’t deserve to be teaching us, we need grownups with morals and a good wholesome mindset to be teaching us math and history. we shouldn’t be teaching COMMON curtesy to grown ass adults.

  • C

    Christopher M TowersDec 10, 2019 at 1:26 PM

    she said she doenst want me to play fortnite in class

  • J

    joseph hermanNov 19, 2019 at 3:56 PM

    I recently have been flooded by teachers attacking me because of my political views here in California. Teachers need to know where they do not have a right to brainwash kids into believing what they themselves believe. It is wrong and not american.

  • V

    Victoria kingFeb 6, 2019 at 12:11 PM

    my teacher was speaking her political opinion during class clearly proving that she doesn’t support Kaepernick in his actions isn’t is illegal for teacher to share their political opinion in class

  • T

    Tyler CowperthwaitNov 13, 2018 at 3:04 PM

    my english teacher forced us to write our political views on gun control. in the state of alabama, that is illegal.

  • G

    Gavin TruesdelFeb 8, 2018 at 11:49 AM

    My teacher spoke his mind on a political movement that was taking place in the state of Indiana. When I confronted him he said it was not illegal I showed him the law but he said he send me to the principles office if i continued with it.