February 2016

Q&A: Political activity at school

Q: Where do districts draw the line on political activity at school?
 
A: The United States Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. School district employees speaking as citizens have the right to share their political viewpoints in their nonwork time using their personal funds. However, employees are prohibited from using district resources such as office equipment and supplies, or even district computer systems, to promote a political measure or candidate. For example, using the district’s copier to make fliers for a political candidate would be an inappropriate use of public resources, even if the employee provided the paper.
 
Similarly, campaigning during work time is an inappropriate use of district resources. Employees are prohibited from actively promoting a particular candidate or even passively promoting one by simply wearing a t-shirt or button if the district’s dress code doesn’t permit it. However, they are allowed to share their political opinions in casual conversations or on their own personal time.
 
Rules for distribution of political materials (i.e., “nonschool materials”) may be addressed in Policy GKDA(LOCAL). Districts need to follow that policy consistently regardless of the viewpoint of the group or person distributing the materials. Districts offer limited public forums of communication, so the distribution of political materials is restricted to specific times, places, and conditions as outlined in local policy.
 
The TASB School Law eSource paper, Campaign Speech During Elections, answers frequently asked questions about school board trustee, community member, school employee, and student activities related to political activities.