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Teacher fired over classroom content has no recourse

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Shelley Evans-Marshall was hired in 2000 with a yearlong contract to teach language arts at Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City. Evans-Marshall received positive reviews in her first year, and was rehired for a second term in 2001.

That fall, during a study of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Evans-Marshall gave her ninth-grade class an assignment featuring the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books.

Some students elected to read Heather Has Two Mommies, by children’s author Lesléa Newman. At a school board meeting later that year, parents complained about that book and Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, as well as other books on the list.

The following day, Principal Charles Wray told Evans-Marshall at a faculty meeting that she was in the “hot seat” over her reading assignments. Evans-Marshall agreed to assign an alternative book for students whose parents objected.

The book she assigned, however, was on an elementary reading level. One student said she felt Evans-Marshall had punished her for seeking an alternative book, and complained that the related assignment was incomprehensible even to her parents.

Later that year, in a creative writing class, Evans-Marshall distributed two student-writing samples, one of which featured a graphic, first-hand description of a rape, and the other the murder of a priest. A secretary who copied the samples shared them with Wray, who subsequently had a heated discussion with Evans-Marshall.

Evans-Marshall responded that she supposed she would have to run whatever she wanted copied past “Daddy” first.

At the end of that year, the board decided not to renew her contract, saying that she refused to communicate with administrators and refused to be a team player.

Evans-Marshall sued, saying the district interfered with her First Amendment rights as a public school teacher.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio dismissed her suit, finding that the board’s interest in controlling its curriculum outweighed Evans-Marshall’s right to choose her materials and instructional methods.

“While the board’s regular practice might have been to allow its teachers the latitude to select supplemental materials and incorporate instructional methods of their choosing, this did not give a teacher the ‘right’ to do so,” the court ruled.

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