Professor Bernstein on Colorado Classroom Free Speech Issue

An editorial in the Denver Rocky Mountain News noted the opinion of Professor David Bernstein that Overland High School social studies teacher Jay Bennish was not deprived of his right to free speech by his school district. The district suspended Bennish with pay after a classroom recording of Bennish's remarks, considered to be highly controversial, hit the airwaves.

Public employees and free speech: School districts in charge, Rocky Mountain News, March 4, 2006.

"David Bernstein, a constitutional law professor at George Mason University, told us that public schools have the right to dictate, word-by-word if they choose, what teachers say in classrooms.

"Not that districts should abuse that power. But because attendance is compulsory, teachers have a captive audience. They're also responsible for shaping the thought processes of 'impressionable youth' who might not have the maturity or intellectual depth to distinguish a loony harangue from a mainstream exposition of a political argument.

"Schools can regulate classroom content. Bernstein says Bennish's case is also undermined by the Cherry Creek School District's written guidelines for handling controversial issues. They instruct teachers in those instances to be 'impartial and objective,' and that the clasroom 'is not a committee for producing resolutions or dogmatic pronouncements.'"

Read the Editorial