Blogging English teacher, Natalie Munroe (Photo apparently from Munroe's own blog.)
Suburban Philadelphia English teacher Natalie Munroe wrote a personal blog on which she called her students “disengaged, lazy whiners,” “utterly loathsome,” and “frightfully dim.”
She was suspended last February, and now, after a summer of blogging about such things as blueberry-cranberry bread pudding, Munroe is back in her classroom, but parents are still mad.
The Associated Press reports that over 200 parents at Central Bucks East High School have informed school officials that they want their children kept out of Munroe’s classes. Yet some out there hail her for telling the truth.
Munroe says her blog quotes have been taken out of context and that the media has made inaccurate statements about her. So I’ll let her provide some context with a quote from her blog post the day the scandal broke: (And note that when Munroe says “blogs” she apparently means “blog posts.”)
Of my 84 blogs, 60 of them had absolutely nothing to do with school or work. Of the 24 that mentioned it, only some of them were actually focused on it–others may have mentioned it in passing, like if I was listing things that annoyed me that day and wrote without any elaboration that students were annoying that day. …
Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, I didn’t–and don’t–feel negatively toward all students. As I mentioned in another blog that nobody chooses to talk about, there were delightful students in school, too. I fondly discussed some wonderful students who shined in the school’s Jazz and Poetry Festival, and I even said that I was proud to be part of the school at events like that.
But the fact remains that every year, more and more, students are coming in less willing to work, to think, to cooperate. These are the students I was complaining about in my blog. The same way millions of Americans go home at the end of the day and complain about select coworkers or clients or other jerks they had to deal with, I came home and complained on my blog about those I had to deal with.
Unfortunately, the 84 prior posts have been deleted. Without Munroe making her old posts available, it’s hard to form your own opinion from scratch. (And unfortunately, the Internet Wayback Machine doesn’t have the old posts either.) So I guess we’ll have to say she’s at least guilty of writing something regrettable.
One interesting note is that Munroe apparently tried to keep her blog anonymous. But she didn’t try very hard. For instance, she didn’t use student names or her own whole name. But she did sign her blog as “Natalie M.,” and she apparently included a picture of herself as well. So, not real anonymous at all.
So, what’s the legal dimension here? While some people are calling for Munroe to be fired, one blogger wants the school district to keep her on to avoid a lawsuit.
Was Munroe’s blog protected free speech?
That’s a good question. Off-site speech by public employees concerning their job is an area where the First Amendment has an impact but doesn’t offer full protection. There’s a lot of case law in this area, but I haven’t researched it. So, I can’t say which way I think this would come out.
Also, it’s possible Munroe could make the argument that her blogging is protected under federal labor law. I don’t know how strong that argument would be, and the strength of it would in part depend on the content of her posts and her intended audience, which are facts that are obscured by the deletion of her old posts.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of whether a firing would violate the collective bargaining agreement between the teachers and the school district. That’s something that would depend entirely on the CBA’s terms.
Bottom line, apparently the school district has determined it is not legally in the clear to fire her. That means this story will eventually fizzle out.
A few years from now, it will be something a few students gossip about sporadically: “Did you know that Ms. Munroe … “ A few years after that, no one will remember it at all. (I read recently that Anita Hill’s students today generally have no idea about her nationally famous role in the Clarence Thomas hearings. That kind of boggles my mind … )
Anyway, I guess the broader lesson we are learning is that high school teachers trail only slightly behind high school students and maybe just ahead of high school administrators in their moth-to-a-flame attraction to blogging trouble.