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NEA Legal & Employment Guidance

Educator Rights to Teach Sensitive Topics

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.
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Published: April 4, 2023
This resource originally appeared on

There are no one-size-fits-all rules about what teachers may say in their classrooms. Educators teach about many important historical and contemporary issues, including discussions about racism and LGBTQ+ individuals. But there may be limits to how you can teach certain topics.

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Your freedom in this context will depend on the rules set by your state, school, and school district.

Here, we provide general guidance and real-world examples.

Because professors at public institutions of higher education enjoy greater speech protections while teaching, the following section is focused on the limitations that apply at the K-12 level.

"I believe we have an ethical responsibility to our profession to tell the truth and teach the truth. It’s not our responsibility to teach students what to think, but it is our responsibility as educators to teach them how to think critically. If we’re going to really make things better and improve society, then that work starts with how we educate our students.”

—Taunya Jaco, 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher San Jose, California

This page is intended to provide general information. For specific advice, you should always contact your local union or attorney. 

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