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Report cover. Photo of educators holding rally signs. "Educator Rights. Speaking Up for Public Education and Students."

Educator Advocacy Rights

This guide helps public school teachers and support staff understand their rights when speaking up for public education and students.
Report cover. Photo of educators holding rally signs. "Educator Rights. Speaking Up for Public Education and Students."

Key Takeaways

  1. Feel confident about your rights as an activist.
  2. Understand the type of conduct that is not protected and can land you in trouble.
  3. Deal with public backlash related to advocacy efforts.


This guide provides educators with an overview of your rights at school and outside of school to advocate to meet the needs of students and educators and to stand up for public education.

As always, this guide is intended to provide general information. After explaining the general protections that apply, the guide provides ideas and examples of best practices and ways to approach different situations.

For specific advice, you should always contact your local union or attorney.

Educators rally with picket signs. One educator, standing in the front of the group, holds a bullhorn.
James D. DeCamp


Federal and state laws provide protections to citizens, employees, educators, and unionized workers.

Together, these protections allow educators to do their jobs without fear of being disciplined unfairly for advocating for students, reporting misconduct, teaching, or organizing to improve working conditions.

But these protections are limited, and only cover educators under certain circumstances.

General information on these protections is available here. More specific examples of how you can advocate within the bounds of these protections can be found later in this guide.


A Black woman holds her hand in the air

The First Amendment

Not all of educators’ speech is protected. Here’s what you need to know as an employee of a public school.
a female teacher stands in front of a classroom, she smiles with her arms crossed.

Reporting Wrongdoing

Public school teachers and school support staff are protected when speaking up to prevent discrimination and harassment and acting as whistleblowers to report other violations of federal and state law.
A teacher stands in front of her classroom. She looks back over her shoulder towards the camera, pointing with a pen.

Teacher Tenure

Tenure status often provides the broadest protections for teachers at the K-12 level, and for professors at the higher education level.
A group of 5 educators gather around a table in a classroom, reviewing language in a contract.

Union Activity & Speech

States with public sector bargaining laws offer additional protection for union activity and educators’ speech about workplace conditions.
Headshot of Karen Lauritzen
A lot of teachers say, ‘I’m not political,’ but from our local school boards to the state legislature, that’s who’s deciding the content we teach, the days we have to teach it, the books we’ll use, the state of the buildings we will teach in, to how many children are in our classroom.”
Quote by: Karen Lauritzen, 4th Grade Teacher, Post Falls, Idaho
Educators sit at a table outside, helping with a voter registration campaign


You have the greatest freedom of speech and other protections when you are advocating off duty and away from school.

When you are off duty, you generally have the same rights as any other person to advocate for your views, support your candidates of choice, march and attend protests, sign petitions on issues you care about, and communicate with your elected representatives about those same issues.

Whenever you are involved in any of these activities, you should be clear that you are speaking and acting for yourself or for your union, not on behalf of your school.

If you are writing something that members of the public might see, for example a letter to the editor or a Twitter thread, include a disclaimer that makes clear you are speaking only for yourself and/or for your union, and not as a school representative.

For example, “The opinions and positions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect my school district’s position, strategies, or opinions.”

Your Rights

A woman in a blue jacket in front of a camera

Speaking to the Press

You have the right to speak to the press, but there are some limitations you should keep in mind.
Group of educators at an election rally

Elections and Politics

You have strong First Amendment rights to engage in political activity.
a black man at a lecturn with Sen. Bernie Sanders looking on

Public Testimony

Elected representatives need to hear from you as they make decisions that will affect public education.
A cell phone with people in the distance

On Social Media

Social media can be an amazing advocacy tool. We provide general guidance for using social media, but you should check to see if your district has its own social media policy.
Headshot for Amy Harrison
Politicians make so many decisions that affect my classroom and the profession. I need to be involved so we elect people who are going to make those decisions in a way that is favorable toward public education, public school workers, and the students we serve.”
Quote by: Amy Harrison, Special Education Teacher, North Carolina
Educators hold up signs that read Protect Our Schools
NEA Members participate in the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, D.C. in 2018
Photo by Patrick Ryan


Your speech rights are more limited at school.

As a matter of both federal and state law, public schools have the right to control what their employees say on the job. That is so because when an educator is speaking in their official capacity, people may assume the educator is speaking for the school. State laws and court decisions give schools significant control over speech in schools. Moreover, the school has an interest in controlling its own message.

Schools also have an interest in running their schools efficiently, which means minimizing disruptions and community concerns.

Finally, schools may have an interest in remaining neutral on controversial topics. For all these reasons, you should proceed with caution when engaging in advocacy at school or in your school role. That said, there are still some ways to advocate for your students within the bounds of these constraints.

Your Rights

a group of high school students sit in a circle, engaging in discussion

In the Classroom

Educators must be more careful when discussing controversial issues and acts of violence, bringing in guest speakers, or expressing their own opinions in the classroom.
three black students hold a sign that says no racism

Supporting Student Activism

Students across the country are increasingly using their voices to raise awareness of issues that matter to them.
A student tapes a poster to the wall. The poster contains a rainbow with the word "love" written on it.

Creating Inclusive Spaces

Educators often use decorations to set the tone for their classrooms, school buses, lunchrooms, and other workspaces.
Head shot of Franchesca Mejia
I do more good work in creating a mindful student who looks at the world through equity, justice, and love, than if I censor myself.
Quote by: Franchesca Mejia, Music Teacher, Hutto Independent School District, Texas
Educators holding signs and wearing red rally in Little Rock, AR
Little Rock, AR educators in 2019.
David Yerby


Most of this guide has focused on educators’ rights and the limits of schools’ rights to control their employees in different settings.

The reality is that someone may contend that your conduct may cross the line. Even worse, you may face backlash from the school or community, even when you have complied with all school district policies and are acting within your rights.

Here’s what to expect and how to respond if that happens.


Discipline by the School District

State and local laws, school district policies, employment contracts, and collective bargaining agreements may limit how and when employers may discipline educators.
empty classroom from the back of the room

Dealing with Parent and Community Complaints

Here’s what teachers and school support staff should do when faced with complaints from parents and community members.
school board protest

Handling Harassment

Here is what teachers, school support staff, and administrators can do if they are being harassed.
A female educator stands a microphone holding her hand in the air.
Charles A. Smith Photography


As educators, your work is vital to our nation. Your work builds our future by teaching and supporting students as they learn and grow into engaged members of the community. In that role and in your personal life, you often encounter opportunities for advocacy, some of which are protected and others that may lead to discipline from schools.

In light of recent state laws targeting educators, it is more important than ever that you understand the power you have to advocate for change, as well as how to use that power within the relevant legal frameworks.

We hope this guide helps you in deciding how best to advocate for your students and public education.

As always, if you have legal questions about your specific situation, reach out to your union or an attorney for assistance.

Report cover. Photo of educators holding rally signs. "Educator Rights. Speaking Up for Public Education and Students."

Educator Advocacy Rights

This guide helps public school teachers and support staff understand their rights when speaking up for public education and students.
Download the Report (pdf)

Keeping the Promise of Quality Public Education

The Oregon Education Association (OEA) is a union committed to the cause of providing the basic right of great public education to every student. OEA represents about 41,000 educators working in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 public schools and community colleges. OEA’s membership includes licensed teachers and specialists, classified/education support professionals (ESPs), community college faculty, retired educators, and student members. OEA members also belong to the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA).