MARVIN L. PICKERING, Appellant, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 205, Appellee.

No. 40038.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
Opinion filed January 19, 1967.
Rehearing denied March 27, 1967.

Background:
Marvin L. Pickering wrote a letter criticizing the school board and the district superintendent to be published by a local newspaper. After the letter was published Mr. Pickering was dismissed from his position. Mr. Pickering brought proceedings for reinstatement, but after the hearing the board confirmed the dismissal. He then filed suit with the district court and the decision to terminate him from his position was upheld by the court. Mr. Pickering then brought the case straight to the Supreme Court of Illinois stating that his Constitutional Right to Free Speech had been violated.

Decision:
After hearing testimony from both the Defendant's and Plaintiff, it was determined that the letter written by the Plaintiff contained many misleading and false information that was meant to cause harm to the reputation and integrity of the defendants. Therefore, they had the right to terminate him from his position. The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the decision of the District Court. However, in an opinion filed by Mr. Chief Justice Solfisburg, he pointed out that the testimony of the defendants and witnesses for the defense were not entirely reliable and that not all the information was as misleading or untrue as they had made them out to be. He did recognize that the letter did contain information that was false, but not all the information was even disputed by the defendants. He states that while some information in the letter was false, much of it was true and that the defendants failed to prove the resulting detrimental consequences that the letter caused. Hence, the reason for the termination.

Implication for Teaching:
The most important things to remember from this case is (1) Don't publicly publish anything about your employer you can't back up with hard evidence. (2) Don't publicly publish anything about your employer that you are not willing to get fired for. And (3) Freedom of Speech is not without limits for teachers. Also, the truths contained in a document may be over-looked if it is proven that it contains false or misleading information. I was quite surprised by the outcome of this case and lean more toward the opinion of Mr. Chief Justice Solfisburg. It was never proven that the letter caused a significant disruption and I believe if a student had written the letter, the outcome would have been completely different. However, this case may be a little dated for the present time. There are many blogs that I have seen that criticize many members of the Board and school staff and as far as I've seen no one has been fired or even disciplined for any of it. I think they may have exaggerated the impact the letter actually had on the community.

Quiz Question:
True/False
T F A teacher can legally be fired for something that he/she publishes without impeding their right to Freedom of Speech?

Stacy Lynch
Patrick Stieve