With education as a key issue in upcoming primary and general elections, educational leaders are fielding questions about what staff can and can’t say, wear, or do while they are on campus. How do you protect your staff, remain politically neutral, and still show support for your staff and their personal advocacy?
First, let’s be clear that TXTS 4 Leaders is not providing legal guidance. Your district counsel, board, and district leadership may have made their guidelines clear. Many districts have not said much because there is quite a bit of gray area in determining what counts as “influencing the outcomes of elections” in a manner that is not impartial or neutral.
Though the language may differ depending on your state, Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) §15-511 prohibits school district employees on duty to influence the outcome of an election. According to the Ninth Circuit, when on campus, a school staff member is considered a public employee, and in that role, he or she must remain politically neutral. This makes it clear that employees should not try to influence the outcome of an election for a specific bond, proposition, or candidate while on duty. In Arizona, we have a ballot measure that is nicknamed “Invest in Ed.” Can staff wearing vests on Fridays be perceived as a non-neutral stance used to influence the outcome of the election? I have a vest that I actually wore, often on Fridays. Now can I keep wearing it? How will this be perceived? Here we are. The land of the gray area.
So, how do you protect your staff while showing that you support their advocacy as private citizens? Help them to know their rights, their responsibilities, and the laws. If they know the legal guidelines and statutes, they can they make informed judgments about what they say, wear, and do.