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Judge Says No to NYC Teachers' Campaign Buttons

A federal district judge has ruled that a New York City school system rule barring teachers from wearing campaign buttons in school is likely constitutional.

In an Oct. 17 opinion, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of U.S. District Court in Manhattan rejected a request by the United Federation of Teachers for a preliminary injunction that would bar enforcement of the "chancellor's regulation" against wearing political buttons.

"While a majority of students, particularly older students, presumably would understand that the views expressed by their teachers’ campaign buttons are personal rather than institutional," Judge Kaplan said, "there is a clear relationship between the regulation and defendants’ legitimate interests in ... avoiding the entanglement of their public educational mission with partisan politics."

The UFT had sued the New York City school system on Oct. 10, seeking to block the regulation that requires teachers and staff members to maintain "complete neutrality with respect to all candidates" while on duty or in contact with students. The school district had reiterated the rule in September, after the teachers' union had sent its members a message urging button-wearing and other political activity.

Education Week reported on the issue here.

On another issue in the union's lawsuit, Judge Kaplan agreed to issue an injunction barring the school system from enforcing its rules against the distribution or posting of political materials in staff mailboxes or on union bulletin boards in schools. The judge said the school district failed to justify its rules in those instances, which involve political communications that would generally be out of the view of students.

UFT President Randi Weingarten says in this statement that the union will decide after Election Day whether to pursue the case further.

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