Blogging and free speech: Philadelphia teacher fired after her blog made headlines

Blogging has almost always been recognized as an aspect of free speech. Based on judicial decisions from the past couple of years, it seems to be regarded the same way the first newspapers and pamphlets were – as an outlet of self expression, and thus protected by the First Amendment. 

But the controversy comes from the blurred line between blogging and journalism. The media has special First Amendment privileges that the rest of us don’t, and that includes bloggers. Things like reporter’s privilege, the protection against testifying about confidential sources or information. We can remain anonymous, but only to a certain extent, and the amount of anonymity is really up to how much information we’re willing to give up in our blogger profiles and about me pages. 
Unless a blogger has a provable affiliation with a news organization, the things we blog about are treated as if we’d broadcasted them as private citizens. We can’t threaten, knowingly lie, or incite violence. But can we vent?
An 11th grade teacher in Philadelphia was recently fired after her blog posts got national attention for calling her students “frightfully dim,” “ratlike,” and “dunderheads,” – clearly the insults of an English teacher. Natalie Munroe had taught at Central Bucks High School East for six years before being fired yesterday after a 7-0 schoolboard vote on her “unsatisfactory performance.”
Her blog was posted under the name “Natalie M” and meant to be anonymous. It didn’t name the school, students, or fellow teachers but it did include her photograph. 
She was first suspended for her blog posts in February 2011, but was reinstated last summer. Her request to transfer to one of the district’s two other high schools was denied and her students were allowed to opt out of her classes which left her with abnormally small class sizes. She was then evaluated at the same time as the other teachers and on June 1 recieved her third unsatisfactory performance evaluation and told of the administration’s plans to recommend her termination. She responded in this blog post writing, “Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, I didn’t–and don’t–feel negatively toward all students. As I mentioned in another blog that nobody chooses to talk about, there were delightful students in school, too.” 

She filed suit Friday claiming the school district violated her right to free speech, but the school board’s president responded, Her dismissal “has nothing to do with free speech, but rather [the board’s] obligation to have satisfactory teachers in its classrooms.” 
It looks like the school board took the long and legal way out, so I doubt her free speech suit will help much after so many “unsatisfactory performance” evaluations. At least now we can learn from Natalie’s frightfully public mistakes: if your blog can be found and identified by coworkers or bosses, then don’t write anything you wouldn’t want them to read, because they very well just might. In the same way we’re taught to keep our crazy night-out photos on Facebook private, keep your venting private too. When in doubt, edit your privacy settings or open a Word document instead. I heard they even still sell journals somewhere, but they probably cost more than a custom domain. 
Read Natalie’s whole story on and check out her blog, Where are we going & why are we in this handbasket.
Cartoon found here.