We recently discussed a Vermont principal who was told that she would have to retire after expressing her opinion of Black Lives Matter on her personal Facebook page. Now, a popular social studies teacher and baseball coach at Walled Lake Western High School in Michigan has been fired after tweeting his support for President Donald Trump and reopening the schools. For free speech advocates, the firing of Justin Kucera, 28, raises concerns that he might be another teacher terminated for expressing unpopular views outside of the school. The District denies that it fired Kucera over his support for Trump but that means that someone is lying: either Kucera or the District. For his part, Kucera said that it was the tweets that were raised by the District, not some other ground for termination.
Kucera was called into a Zoom meeting after three tweets. In the first tweet, he retweeted the President saying “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” He also tweeted: “I’m done being silent. @realDonaldTrump is our president … Don’t @ me.” When someone responded to that tweet, Kucera responded “Liberals suck man.” He later deleted that last tweet.
A few days later, he was called in for a meeting with Michael Lonze, assistant superintendent of human resources for Walled Lake Consolidate Schools and Bradley Paddock, executive manager for human resources, as well as two union representatives. He was questioned about his tweets and later told that he must resign or be fired.
As is often the case on the blog, I am not interested in the merits of these views. Indeed, we have often defended teachers who have expressed anti-Trump views. Kucera supports the President and wants schools open. He also insulted liberals and then deleted that insult. The question is whether a teacher should be allowed to participate in expressing such political views.
Expressing anti-Trump or anti-conservative views do not seem a problem in most schools. Indeed, my own school of George Washington is under fire for recommending that incoming students to read a book entitled Conservatism and Racism, and Why in America They Are the Same. Imagine if you are a conservative student coming to GW and that is the book that the school wants you and others to read. When confronted on this recommendation, George Washington University did not send out an apology to all conservative students or include a book criticizing all liberals. It did not send out an apology to the small minority of conservative faculty at the school to assure them that it does not consider them de facto racists.
Conservative critics have noted that Walled Lake teachers have assigned articles on such topics as “how to beat Trump.” That was not on personal social media but in the classroom. Likewise, a kindergarten teacher in the district, reportedly called Trump a “sociopath” and a “narcissist” on Facebook in 2016 but was not fired. I would not want either teacher fired. The question is why Kucera is not accorded the same freedom of expression.
This brings us back to the denial. The district has basically called Kucera a liar. It is quoted as saying “no disciplinary action was taken as a result of any support of President Trump.” It then refused to address the reasons for the termination. It did make the following rather opaque additional comment: “When issues arise there’s a temptation to view items through the lens of our fractured political discourse. Walled Lake encourages students and staff members to engage each other with mutual respect and civility.”
There is obviously a public concern that this action occurred so soon after these tweets. It would be useful for the District to state categorically that it did not raise the tweets as a purpose of this meeting. It could also address whether it accepts that teachers are allowed to engage in political speech. While Kucera went too far in the tweet on liberals, he deleted it.
Since Kucera has already spoken publicly about the reasons for his termination, he should not release the district from any confidentiality obligation on the cause for this termination. Again, someone is lying or shading the truth. If the tweets were raised in the meeting, the District should have (at a minimum) admitted that they were part of the reason that he was pulled into the meeting. If he was fired for the tweets, he should be reinstated and others reviewed for discipline for not only curtailing free speech but lying about the controversy to the public.
This is a major concern for families if the District is applying a content-based discriminatory policy on speech. It is also a major concern if they have been lied to by either the teacher or the Administrators. It should not be difficult to find out who if Kucera will waive confidentiality or seek a written explanation for termination.