SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana today filed suit against Porter County Education Services (PCES) on behalf of a teacher’s aide who was fired for speaking to a student outside of class time about matters unrelated to school. They were on school property at the time and were discussing a matter of general interest.
“School administrators shouldn’t need to be reminded that teachers have a right to speak to their students,” said Kenneth J. Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana. “As the Supreme Court has ruled, students don’t surrender constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate – and neither do teachers.”
Daniel Carter, a special education aide at Chesterton Middle School, worked for PCES from 2012-15, and again since 2017. Carter, who volunteered to assist with two after-school clubs, noticed a student looking through a deck of tarot cards at a club meeting, and they had a conversation regarding the artwork.
The following week Carter brought a tarot deck belonging to his wife to the school, and following the conclusion of the school day but while still on school property, he showed the deck to the same student and engaged in a five-to-ten minute conversation regarding the artwork involved. Four days later, Carter received a phone call notifying him he had been terminated from his position at PCES.
PCES cites the reason for Carter’s dismissal as “going beyond his duties and...talking to the student outside of school hours” -- even though this is required in his capacity as an assistant for an after-school club. Carter notes that his conversation with the student was regarding the tarot card artwork only and that discussions of art are matters of general concern.
The lawsuit, Carter v. Porter County Educational Services, filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, alleges that PCES violated Carter’s First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing him freedom of speech. The lawsuit asks the court to order Carter’s immediate reinstatement, in addition to back pay and legal fees.