Santer v. Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District

990 N.Y.S.2d 442 (2014)

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Santer v. Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District

New York Court of Appeals
990 N.Y.S.2d 442 (2014)

EL

Facts

Teachers who were members of a teachers’ union (plaintiffs) engaged in weekly picketing outside a middle school for over two years regarding the failure of their union and the local school district (defendant) to reach a collective-bargaining agreement. For over two years, the district had never disciplined the teachers for engaging in picketing. One rainy day, the teachers decided to picket from their cars to avoid standing in the rain. To ensure greater visibility, the teachers parked in a location that blocked a busy drop-off zone. Traffic backed up, causing 16 nonpicketing teachers to be tardy. Parents also had to drop off children in the middle of the street, where the children had to weave between cars to reach the school. Citing student safety hazards that rainy day, the district commenced misconduct proceedings against the involved teachers. An arbitrator found the teachers guilty of misconduct. The teachers appealed the decision to the state courts, arguing their conduct was protected by the First Amendment. The lower court affirmed the arbitrator’s decision, but the appellate court reversed, finding the teachers should not have been disciplined for First Amendment-protected activity. The district appealed to the state’s highest court, arguing its interest in safeguarding students and maintaining the effective operation of schools outweighed the teachers’ interest in engaging in free speech.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Abdus-Salaam, J.)

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