The Thomas Brown mystery shows up in a school law case…

Robert Boyd was terminated from his job as a maintenance worker in Canadian ISD based on something he posted on social media.  He did this at 10:30p.m.  He was not on the job, nor using a school computer.  His post was about the mysterious death of a popular high school student that has torn apart Canadian, Texas and surrounding areas.  Tom Brown, a high school senior, disappeared the day before Thanksgiving in 2016. His body was found in January, 2019, and to this day it is not clear what happened to him. That’s what Mr. Boyd posted about.  Certainly, this would qualify as a “matter of public concern.”  Mr. Boyd sued the district, alleging that his termination was a violation of his right to free speech, protected by the 1st Amendment.

The court dismissed his suit.  It’s true that the 1st Amendment protects school employees when they speak “as a citizen” commenting on “matters of public concern.”  But even when that is the case, the court has to explore a second issue: “The second step of the inquiry requires determining whether the relevant government entity had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public.” 

Citing the Supreme Court, the court in Mr. Boyd’s case described the school district’s legitimate interests:

[The district] has a clear interest in (1) maintaining harmony among its co-workers, (2) guarding close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary (not just relationships among co-workers, but also relationships between students/families and [the district’s] employee, and (3) ensuring normal operations in the provision of the District’s educational services.

The problem with Mr. Boyd’s social media post was that it cast suspicion onto Thomas Brown’s mother and her husband.  Thomas Brown’s mother was a teacher in the district.  The court concluded that there was no way that Mr. Boyd’s right to speak out on matters “outweighed [CISD’s] legitimate interests in promoting harmony amongst its employees, close working relationships within the district, and the continued operations of its educational services.” 

It’s Boyd v. Canadian ISD, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas based on a Report and Recommendation from the magistrate issued on February 17, 2022 that can be found at 2022 WL 837933.


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