Janet Arsanian, a teacher at Cortney Junior High School, is facing calls for her termination after her son dressed as Adolf Hitler for Halloween. The controversy rekindles our long debate over the free speech rights of teachers and public employees in controversial statements or actions in their private lives. Arsanian insisted that “we don’t worship Hitler or agree with what he did.” More importantly, there is no allegation that Arsanian has shown any intolerance or inappropriate responses in her role as a teacher. I share to reaction of many to such a costume as offensive but, as many on this blog know, I tend to follow a robust view of free speech in such controversies.
Arsanian triggered the firestorm in a posting with a picture of her son on a private Boulder City Facebook group. She wrote ‘I’m the proud parent of the boy in the Hitler costume and my son didn’t mean to upset anyone. He needed a last-minute costume and he put that together today. No we don’t worship Hitler or agree with what he did.” The post was later deleted but saved version led to calls for her to fired.
I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) students (here, here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here). This includes Halloween costume controversies.
A fellow educator, Brian Scott, defended his college and said that she is a great teacher and that was likely a misunderstanding: “It’s a kid in a Halloween costume . . . people dress up like the devil and witches and vampires and things like that all the time. Evil things.”
From a free speech perspective, the threshold issue is the right of teachers to hold controversial values or make controversial statements in their private lives. I have long maintained that teachers should not have to sanitize their lives or views to satisfy majoritarian views. They should be judged on their actions and performance in their classrooms not their lifestyle or views in their private lives.
What do you think?