Appeals court rejects suit by teacher fired over blog

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former suburban Philadelphia teacher fired for writing derisively about students on her blog, calling them "disengaged, lazy whiners" and "disobedient, disrespectful oafs," can't invoke free speech in suing to get her job back, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a judge's decision to throw out Natalie Munroe's lawsuit against the Central Bucks School District because her posts did not rise to the level of constitutionally protected expression.

The interests of the district, a public employer, to maintain the trust of its students and parents outweighed Munroe's right to free speech, the majority in the 2-1 decision ruled.

The district fired Munroe in 2012 after a student discovered the blog, meant as an avenue to vent to family and friends, and posted it on Facebook.

"How could students be expected to participate in a class when a teacher indicated that she wished she could use terms like "Rat-like" on their own report cards (even if her list was intended as a humorous exercise)?" Judge Robert Cowen wrote in the decision.

The blog attracted national media attention. Munroe gave several interviews, refusing to apologize for her opinions, and attempting to shift attention to a larger debate over education policy.

Judge Thomas Ambro offered a dissenting opinion, saying the lower court should have afforded greater consideration to Munroe's contention that her media interviews contributed to her firing.

"I am persuaded that Munroe has, at a minimum, created a jury question about whether her media interviews factored into the discharge decision," Ambro wrote.

Lawyers for Munroe and the school district did not immediately return telephone messages.

Munroe took her case to the appellate court after U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe granted the school district's motion to dismiss it.

"Far from implicating larger discussions of education reform, pedagogical methods, or specific school policies," the judge said, the postings "mostly complained about the failure of (Munroe's) students to live up to her expectations."

Munroe's blog did not identify her school, district, colleagues or students, although it did include her picture and identified her as "Natalie M."

"My students are out of control," Munroe wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."

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