Facebook Post Sparks Conversation Over Freedom of Speech and Culture at Liberty

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Facebook Post Sparks Conversation Over Freedom of Speech and Culture at Liberty

Screenshots showing the original tweet

Screenshots showing the original tweet

Paige Oatney

Screenshots showing the original tweet

Paige Oatney

Paige Oatney

Screenshots showing the original tweet

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An OLHS student tweeted screenshots of a Facebook post late Monday night that originated from two OLHS employees. After one employee shared a post found on Facebook, the second made a comment. The post on Twitter gained attention, seen by over 200,000 people and receiving over 2,100 likes.

Replies on the tweet initially revolved around the right of the employees to post what they choose. This evolved into a debate between community members regarding morality and freedom of speech.

Most of the time, a public official model is applied to view cases concerning an educator’s freedom of speech. This model states that the First Amendment protects an educator’s right to speak if one “speaks 1) as a citizen, 2) on a matter of public concern, and 3) not pursuant to her “official duties”’ (Miller, “Teacher Facebook Speech: Protected or Not?”, Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal). While the clear definition of “a matter of public concern” is still not precisely defined, in previous cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has viewed it as “the content of speech on a matter of public concern generally addresses a social or political concern of the community,”. Other models also include the Tinker-Hazelwood Student Speech model, which states that the school can only censor speech when it substantially interferes with the operations of the school.

However, neither of these models provide specific guidelines on social media speech protections for educators. In this matter, the Ohio Education Association has provided social media guidelines which mirror many of the ideas from the previous two models.

“Free speech rights are fairly limited for educators: their speech is protected only if they speak out as citizens on matters of ‘public concerns’ and their speech doesn’t disrupt the school. Matters of personal concern…are not protected,” is posted on the organization’s website.

The Ohio Department of Education also has similar guidelines, calling on educators, as the website says, to be “smarter than their phones.”

Individual schools themselves may also have official policies regarding social media use. The Patriot Press reached out to the Olentangy School Board on the district’s social media and free speech policy but was unable to reach them for comment.

All of these guidelines are in place because of the position that educators occupy in the community. As the BYU Education and Law Journal states, “The public often holds teachers to a higher moral and ethical standard than the general populace because they are mentors, coaches, and examples for the nation’s youth.”

This is one of the reasons that motivated senior Jack Hiltner to post the screenshots.

“If you’re gonna have these opinions, please know that you have students watching you. You are expected to be a role model, and students look up to you… it’s just something that I think was an issue since these are impressionable young people who are still figuring themselves out and their identities,” Hiltner said.

Many people on the original Twitter thread questioned whether Hiltner should have posted the screenshots publicly. However, Hiltner states that he had a clear reason for doing so. “It was important [to post] because public pressure seems to make the school work and solve problems more effectively… that’s the one motivating thing they would have,” he said.

However, while wanting to put pressure on the school, Hiltner emphasized that his intentions were not to negatively affect the jobs of the staff members involved. Rather, he states that he intended for it to be a learning experience and to raise an important discussion on the behavior of teachers.

“I don’t want these staff members fired. I want them to learn why it’s not okay,” he said. “Openly discriminating against communities you know nothing about, discriminating against people you’ve never met is not okay…I hope the school will be able to prove that by adjusting how the school and student body acts.”

Some people argue that the intentions behind the post were not to be discriminatory but rather to freely express a viewpoint. The Patriot Press reached out to the two staff members involved for their side. However, Patriot Press was informed that these two staff members were not allowed to make any comments regarding the incident

One student has spoken about his particular experience at the high school. Tyler Hiltz was a transgender student at OLHS who then transferred to OASIS the summer between his freshman and sophomore years due to his situation within the high school.

“I didn’t feel like the environment at Liberty was providing me the best opportunity to deal with my [situation] and [I] feel like I couldn’t really focus on getting an education while dealing with trying to juggle school, mental health and my identity,” Hiltz said. “I think Liberty is very much about statistics and numbers and it’s not so much tailored to individual students…they’re not willing to focus on the individual students themselves and what they’re going through.”

When asked if OASIS was more open to minority groups, his response was an immediate yes. Hiltz expressed that after transferring to OASIS, he felt there was a much more conducive environment for him to grow.

“OASIS allowed me to express and explore my identity freely and openly whatever I was going through they were very supportive and they grew with me… I think Liberty could be the same way. It is just a matter of educating people…how do we help support students best and how do we help students be the most successful through these things?” Hiltz said.

Regarding the post in question and all of the attention it garnered, Hiltz stated that the focus should now be on how to move forward from the incident in a positive and productive manner.

“Now we just need to learn how to respect each other’s opinions and move on. There’s nothing else you can do but say ‘maybe I disagree with you…maybe I agree with you’,” he said. “It’s over. It’s done. It’s in the past. It was unfortunate. It happened. What can we do now? how can we move on?…”

This is more than just a twitter thread. This is about the freedom of speech and the behaviors seen at Liberty that are being questioned. Where is the line between freedom of speech and the right to safety and security? What should one do when these two values seem to contradict each other? Especially when the dignity of all those involved is at stake.

 

The Patriot Press and The Cannon are two different publications with different staff members working on each one. 

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