UPDATE:  ACLU, PETA Foundation Settle Lawsuit Against School District’s Treatment of Teacher

CLEVELAND, Ohio—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the Green Local Board of Education in Smithville today, reminding the school district that teachers have a First Amendment right to engage in free speech. The ACLU urges the school board to immediately reinstate former teacher Keith Allison to his position with Green Local Schools and issue an apology.

Keith Allison was removed as a Title I tutor by the school district in August for sharing his personal beliefs about the treatment of animals on dairy farms and encouraging people to drink plant-based milk on his Facebook page. The message was posted on Mr. Allison’s personal time, off school grounds, using his own computer.

“Teachers do not give up their right as citizens to free speech simply because they work for a public school system,” said Joseph Mead, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Ohio representing Keith Allison. “This is an important civics lesson. As the training ground for future citizens, schools have a special obligation to follow the Constitution.”

The Facebook post did not violate any laws, Mead said. The reason given for Mr. Allison’s termination by Superintendent Judy Robinson was that it offended the owner of a farm depicted in a photograph on the post, even though the identity of the landowner or location of the farm was not specified.

“All public employees, including teachers, are allowed to express their point of view whether you agree with it or not” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio. “A school district cannot punish an employee simply because a member of the community objects to what the employee has to say.”

The situation was brought to the ACLU of Ohio’s attention by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the organization Mr. Allison first approached for assistance, according to Levenson. The ACLU of Ohio saw this as a clear violation of Mr. Allison’s right to free speech and agreed to represent him.