Tifton teacher loses in Supreme Court, but has support - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Tifton teacher loses in Supreme Court, but has support

Kelly Tucker in foreground (Source: WALB) Kelly Tucker in foreground (Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB) (Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB) (Source: WALB)
Part of the comment at the center of the controversy (Source: WALB) Part of the comment at the center of the controversy (Source: WALB)
Georgia Supreme Court (WALB image) Georgia Supreme Court (WALB image)

The Supreme Court of Georgia has denied an appeal involving a Tift County public schools teacher who disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement on Facebook in 2015 and was suspended for five days by the school board.

However, the court expressed concerns about suppressing First Amendment rights by government authorities.

Supreme Court Justice Nels S. D. Peterson wrote that he agrees that the school officials are entitled to 'qualified immunity,' and he agrees with the high court’s refusal to hear Kelly Tucker’s appeal.

However, "I write separately to express my grave concerns that the school officials may well have violated Tucker’s First Amendment rights," said Peterson, who is joined by Chief Justice P. Harris Hines and Justice Keith R. Blackwell.

"American courts have long been jealous guardians of the right to free speech," the judges said. And, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable," they said, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson.

"Government employers clearly have authority to control their employees in the course of their employment. But is something else entirely to hold that government employers can punish their employees based on viewpoints expressed in private speech, as the school officials did here," the judges said.

Kelly Tucker, a teacher at 8th Street Middle School in Tifton, made the post about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. On December 6, 2015, Tucker commented on a Facebook post with racially charged remarks, according to the Tift County School Board's attorney.

The post was read in the hearing as follows: "It's turned into a race matter. What about the thugs that beat the father in his vehicle because he didn't slow down? What about the thugs that shot the college baseball player because they were bored?  The list can go on and on. If the dude hadn't have stolen, he would be alive. I think signs should read, take the hood off your head and pull up your dang pants and quit impregnating everybody. I'm tired of paying for these sorry [expletive] thugs. I would much rather my hard earned money, that the government takes, go to people who need it, such as abusive adults with children. Not to mention the animals that they beat and fight too. That's all I'm saying."

The school board attorney says it went viral and that it was offensive, violating a code of ethics for educators.

But Tucker's attorney said no specific race was pointed out and that she was only speaking from opinion. He said the post was just one in a continuing dialogue.

The attorney also said there was another comment made by Tucker saying, "All lives matter."

At the time, Superintendent Patrick Atwater said beyond this incident, Tucker was a great teacher.?

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