“Teachers are as a class the members of a community most likely to have informed and definite opinions as to how funds allotted to the operation of the schools should be spent. Accordingly, it is essential that they be able to speak out freely on such questions without fear of retaliatory dismissal.”
Pickering v. Board of Education, United States Supreme Court, 1968


Teachers As Citizens

In the words of Albert Einstein:

“The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it.”

And so it has been with hundreds of public school teachers who discovered that when they criticized their school system, they experienced retaliation in the form of scurrilous attacks and physical threats.

It happened to Maggi Hall, beginning with a simple letter to the editor of her local newspaper. Little did Hall realize that she would one day become a whistleblower and that her complaints criticizing her school district’s inappropriate expenditure of funds would result in harassment, intimidation, and termination. The school superintendent even published a “poem” in the local newspaper threatening Hall. Though her name wasn’t mentioned everyone who read the paper knew who it was aimed to silence. Here's the "poem" he published:

in Heaven's name WORK for him.
If he pays you wages which supply you bread and butter,
work for him; speak well of him;
stand by him and stand by the institutions he represents.
If put to a pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
If you must vilify, condemn and eternally disparage—resign your position,
and when you are outside damn to your heart’s content,
but as long as you are part of the institution do not condemn it.
If you do that, you are loosening the tendrils that are holding you to that institution,
and at the first high wind that comes along, you will be uprooted and blown away,
and probably will never know the reason why.
Paid for with private funds by Bill and his two friends.

Foil even documented his attempt to deny Hall her First Amendment rights in numerous outrageous memos to the board. The covert attempt to punish her included the use of public funds to follow and photograph her—a well-planned conspiracy that included school board members and administrators, a minister, strangers, supposed friends, and fellow teachers. She was removed from her classroom and placed at the administration office without being allowed to tell her students good-bye. The State newspaper in Columbia gave Hall front page coverage as all the papers followed closely the unfolding saga. Hall’s daughter was threatened, vile messages left on their answering machine, and their dog stolen.

Hall’s story is stunning and frightening. Court records are over two feet high, the public hearing before the school board was the longest ever recorded in South Carolina. When she was terminated “for behavior disruptive to the educational process” the SCEA/NEA filed a lawsuit in Federal Court. The trial lasted several days with the most damning testimony against himself given by Superintendent William C. Foil:

News Story from The State
William C. Foil, Sworn.
Direct Examination
By Mr. Gergel:

"Q. I want you to focus on a date of December 5, 1990. Do you remember that to be the day that the first letter to the editor was written?
A. I think that’s probably correct.

Q. Prior to December 5, 1990, did you understand that Ms. Hall’s classroom performance was good?
A. I believe it was recommended, observed by the principal and recommended each year. Yes.

Q. Her contract was renewed every year in the normal course, is that right?
A. That’s correct."

Read Entire Testimony >

After her victory in the US District Court of South Carolina (click here to read the US District Court of South Carolina's Decision), Marion School District 2 appealed. Hall refused to settle so the case then went to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond VA.

Margaret S. Hall vs. Marion School District Number 2 was one of the most important First Amendment cases to be decided by the Fourth Circuit in over a decade (1994). It was unanimous, published, and extensive. Superintendents across the US were waiting for the decision. It stands today as CASE LAW to protect the rights of public school teachers as well as all public employees who speak out against their superiors regarding matters of public concern. Had the school district fought the Fourth Circuit’s decision the National Education Association considered the case so significant it would have appealed it to the United States Supreme Court (click here to read the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Decision).

AFFIRMED: Teachers as Citizens illustrates Hall’s struggle to keep tax money where it belongs—for the education of our children. Her well documented book with significant footnotes has an appendix for those determined to become activists and whistleblowers. The word AFFIRMED, appearing as a one-word sentence on a separate line, is the final word in an opinion wherein the appellate court upheld the decision of the lower court.

© Maggi Smith Hall
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