SCHOOLS ‑- POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF TEACHERS, ETC. ‑- AS BASIS FOR ACTION TO RESTRAIN OR DISCHARGE
There is no statutory or general provision of law under which court action may be taken to restrain the superintendents, principals and teachers of the public schools from engaging in political activities. However, if such activities are engaged in by a teacher in the school before the students, it might be the basis for a dismissal by the school board.
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August 27, 1952
Senator John H. Happy
Spokane 8, Washington Cite as: AGO 51-53 No. 389
Under date of August 7, 1952, you requested our opinion as follows:
"1. Can those persons in charge of Public Schools, such as superintendents, principals, etc., be restrained from distributing campaign literature in behalf of any particular candidate for the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction in connection with the coming primary election?
"2. If requested by Parent Teacher groups to distribute campaign literature in behalf of any particular candidate for the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, can these school officials (superintendent, principals, etc.) be legally restrained from so doing?
"3. Can the same school officials be restrained from providing campaign literature for school children and instructing said school children to take such material home to their parents?"
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
It is our conclusion that each of your inquiries must be answered in the negative as there is no statutory or general provision of law under which court action may be taken to restrain the superintendents, principals and teachers of the public schools from engaging in political activities. However, if such activities are engaged in by a teacher in the school before the students, it might be the basis for a dismissal by the school board.
We have found no Washington statute which relates directly to the political activity of those employed in the public school system or which would constitute a basis for court action to restrain participation in such political activity. Neither does there appear to be any general rule of law on which such action could be based.
Although the question is not strictly within the scope of your specific inquiries as we understand them, it may well be that the type of political activity referred to by you, when engaged in within the school, would constitute a proper basis for the discharge of teachers for "sufficient cause" (RCW 28.58.100, par. 1). In the case ofGoldsmith v. Board of Education, 66 Cal. App. 157, 225 Pac. 783, cited with approval in Board of Education of City of Eureka, et al. v. Jewett, 21 Cal. App. (2d) 64, 68 P. (2d) 404, 406, a teacher was suspended for having advocated in school and before the student body, the candidacy of a particular person for the office of county school superintendent. It was held that such activity constituted "unprofessional conduct" within the intent of a statute authorizing the dismissal of a teacher for such conduct.
The California court in that case said:
"* * it is to be observed that the advocacy before the scholars of a public school by a teacher of the election of a particular candidate for a public office,‑-the attempt thus to influence support of such candidate by the pupils and through them by their parents,‑-introduces into the school questions wholly foreign to its purposes and objects; that such conduct can have no other effect than to stir up strife among the students over a contest for a political office, and the result of this would inevitably be to disrupt the required discipline of a [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] public school. Such conduct certainly is in contravention not only of the spirit of the laws governing the public school system, but of that essential policy according to which the public school system should be maintained in order that it may subserve in the highest degree its purposes."
Thus, under the well reasoned opinion of the California court such activities within the school and before the students constitute "unprofessional conduct" on the part of a teacher.
It would, therefore, appear to be such conduct as would justify dismissal by the board of directors of a school board under our statute which authorizes dismissal "for sufficient cause". Such action would, of course, be within the discretion of the school board.
Very truly yours,
FRED L. HARLOCKER
Assistant Attorney General