ALBANY, N.Y. Sept. 17, 2015 — New York State United Teachers today hailed a federal court ruling allowing the union's challenge of the state 'gag order' that prohibits teachers from speaking about state tests to proceed.
In rejecting the state's motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe ruled Tuesday the plaintiffs — five teachers represented by NYSUT — had sufficiently pleaded that the confidentiality agreements chilled their free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
"This ruling allows NYSUT's defense of educators' free speech to move forward. That is welcome news not only for our members, but also for parents and students who rely on teachers to speak truth to power. The 'gags' on teachers must be untied," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.
NYSUT is challenging the state's so-called "confidentiality agreements" that prohibit teachers from speaking out about state tests as an unconstitutional violation of teachers' free speech rights. Teachers who speak out in the face of the state's gag orders could face disciplinary charges, lose their teaching licenses or face criminal prosecution.
"Teachers have the right and responsibility to speak out on issues of public concern, especially when they are protecting children from a broken testing system that has been criticized by parents and teachers alike. Educators at all grade levels should be able to freely discuss testing and other issues affecting our students without fear of retaliation," Magee said. "Now, this important lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state's 'confidentiality agreements' as an unconstitutional prior restraint on teachers' First Amendment rights will move forward."
NYSUT is suing on behalf of four teachers from Spencerport in Monroe County — Robert Allen, Carol Lennon, Claudia Montecalvo and Emilija Thevanesan — and Matthew Fuller, a teacher in Taconic Hills in Columbia County.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.