Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Crawford v. Commission on Prof'l Competence (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 11, 2020)

What do you think about this one?

Here are the facts:

"On February 16, 2017, RHS students protested in support of 'A Day Without Immigrations,' a nationwide boycott that sought to illustrate the economic impact of immigrants in the United States and to protest President Donald J. Trump’s immigration policies. RHS’s student body is approximately 90 percent Hispanic/Latino, and about a quarter of its students boycotted attending school in support of the protest.

On the morning of “A Day Without Immigrants,” another teacher e-mailed staff asking about the high rate of absences in her classes. Crawford responded, “The PROFESSIONAL staff members and SERIOUS students are here today, boycott be darned.”

Later that day, RHS teacher Geoffrey Greer posted the following on Facebook: “Well. A day without immigrants. Perhaps all the missing workers in all the various industries out there had the intended impact and sent the desired message. I don’t know. As for the public school system, having my class size reduced by 50% all day long only served to SUPPORT Trump’s initiatives and prove how much better things might be without all this overcrowding. [¶] That’s what you get when you jump on some sort of bandwagon cause as an excuse to be lazy and/or get drunk. Best school day ever.” Crawford commented on Greer’s post, “Cafeteria was much cleaner after lunch, lunch, itself, went quicker, less traffic on the roads, and no discipline issues today. More, please.” Several other teachers made similar comments about how the protesting students’ absence had positive effects, such as smaller classes, fewer “troublemakers,” increasing a class’s “cumulative GPA,” and making instruction easier.

Two students commented on Greer’s post to express their disappointment and disagreement with the post and the teachers’ comments in the thread. A student responded by saying, among other things, “[Y]ou guys are public figures and many students are taking these comments in a negative way . . . . I myself am a son of an immigrant and I do feel as some of these comments are directed towards my cohort.” Immediately after this comment, a former RHS student said, “Let’s not focus on the teachers here, a counselor, who I looked up to made a remark. Very very disappointing.” The counselor the student was referring to was Crawford.

Within minutes, Crawford responded, “Disappointing is to think that some of my students still don’t get it about education. Staff members who are sympathetic to the cause were at school today. The kids who care were there. The professional staff members were there. What I saw today was more proof, just like last year, that boycotts, especially of education, aren’t the answer. It just keeps the ones who need it the most as useful fools.”

Another former RHS student responded to Crawford’s comment shortly afterward. He said “[Y]ou don’t understand what it feels like to have counselors that belittle what you want to be. That when you’re trying to aim high, they tell you that you can’t.” Crawford responded directly to the student, stating “[A]ny counselor who chops you off at the knees like that shouldn’t be a counselor. That’s why today upset me so much. I want my students to go out there and stand proud. Education is one way to do that.” Someone immediately replied to Crawford’s comment with “[Crawford], in your previous statement above you said ‘more please!’, meaning you want more of your students to not keep coming to class like today. Why contradict yourself now?”

Crawford did not reply, but elsewhere in the post’s thread, she commented a final time by saying, “And I’m the great-granddaughter of immigrants. I care. But this isn’t the way to go about effecting change. My post was meant to be snarky. Get over yourselves.” Crawford then logged off Facebook for the night."

There's the relevant exchange.  What do you think?  Legitimate First Amendment debate?  Racist and demeaning tripe?  Permissible?  Improper?  What's your reaction?

Ultimately, this exchange gets a lot of attention.  It "went viral" and prompted more discussion, protest, angst, vitriol, etc.

The person at the center of this exchange -- Patricia Crawford -- gets fired.  She's dismissed on the ground that her conduct was "immoral," which (pursuant to precedent), if true, is indeed a permissible basis for being fired.

Agree?  Disagree?  Is what Ms. Crawford said immoral?

The Court of Appeal unanimously says "Yes."

Among other things, the opinion shows, I think, how the world has changed in the past half-century.  Fifty years ago, teachers were fired for "immoral" conduct because they were gay, lived alternative lifestyles, etc.  We don't do that (much) anymore.  More to the point, fifty years ago, there's no way Ms. Crawford would have been fired for similar statements.  The comments would not have been viewed as immoral.  Perhaps most significantly, in the 60s and 70s, at least, there would have been broader view -- supported by both left-wing intellectuals and by cases like Tinker and its progeny -- that teachers and other school participants have a broad First Amendment right to engage in public discourse.  Even if such public communications resulted, as here, in a segment of broader community reacting negatively.

The world's changed.  Whether for overall better or worse is obviously a matter of debate.

Anyway, Ms. Crawford is fired for her speech and the Court of Appeal says that's fine.  There are obviously types of speech that legitimately get you fired; I won't expressly articulate the hypotheticals, but you easily can come up with 'em yourself.  People can debate whether Ms. Crawford's speech falls on one side or another of the relevant normative line.

But, descriptively, after today's opinion, we can definitively say that the California judiciary believes that it falls on the "immoral" side of that equation.