Blogging Teacher May Be Out of a Job
Natalie Munroe's lawyer said the Central Bucks School District is expected to recommend firing her at a school board meeting on June 26.
EASTERN PA -- When Natalie Munroe was reinstated to her Central Bucks East High School classroom last fall, her lawyer speculated that the English teacher was being set up to fail.
Now, as the school year draws to a close, both Munroe and her attorney, Steven L. Rovner, say they have been proven right.
Rovner said Tuesday that Central Bucks administrators are expected to recommend firing Munroe, whose online comments about her students included "A complete and utter jerk in all ways," "Lazy a--hole," and "There’s no other way to say this: I hate your kid."
Her blog posts led to a national firestorm about both student behavior and online speech.
Rovner, who lives in Northampton Township and has an office in Feasterville, said Tuesday that the school district is expected to move to terminate Munroe at the school board meeting on June 26.
"Unfortunately, what I predicted came true, in that Central Bucks was setting Natalie up for failure," Rovner said in an email Tuesday to Doylestown Patch. "They have spent the past year creating an impossible work place, one that would, after the fact, artificially and falsely supports a determination for termination."
Natalie Munroe and her husband, Brian, who live in Warminster, at first declined to comment further on Tuesday.
Brian Munroe, who is running for state representative in Pennsylvania's 29th district against incumbent Republican Bernie O'Neill, said his campaign may make a statement in the next few days.
But within hours, Natalie Munroe had posted a statement on her blog.
"In short, yes, I've been set up," Munroe wrote Tuesday night. "For now, that's all I'm going to say about it."
"I've always been the kind of person who stands up for what I believe in, but the importance of doing so has been reinforced these past 16 months," Munroe continued, adding, "We cannot back down just because someone makes something harder for us in an effort to shut us up. We cannot go with the flow just because it's easier not to make ripples. We can't be complacent or we're part of the problem. Instead, we have to be part of the solution."
Keith Sinn, outgoing president of the Central Bucks teachers' union, declined to comment, saying he could not publicly discuss personnel issues.
Rovner said he and attorney Stanley Cheiken plan to sue the school district, asserting that officials violated Munroe's constitutional rights, including freedom of speech.
Many in the Central Bucks community had called for Munroe's firing after her blog came to light in February 2011. The district suspended her, and she remained out on maternity leave while administrators and the school board deliberated.
"Ms. Munroe, by her own actions, has made it impossible for her to teach in this district," Superintendent N. Robert Laws said during a school board meeting in February 2011. "No students should be subjected to such a hostile educational environment."
But the district ultimately decided not to try to dismiss her at that time.
Munroe returned to the Buckingham Township high school last fall, albeit to fewer students than usual - 12, 15, and 7 students in her fall classes, as she reported on her blog.
For the first time anyone could remember, Central Bucks administrators honored parents' requests to keep their children out of Munroe's classes.
"When the district had no legal grounds to fire me in the wake of Bloggate 2011, they tried to make me superfluous by encouraging students and their parents to opt out of my classes," she wrote on her blog in a post published Oct. 17, 2011.
Rating Public Teachers
In Central Bucks, as in other public schools across Pennsylvania, teachers can be recommended for termination if they have received two unsatisfactory ratings during performance reviews.
Those reviews must be conducted four months apart. After the first unsatisfactory finding, a teacher is supposed to work with a mentor or administrator to improve performance.
If the second review also ends with an unsatisfactory rating, the teacher then can be recommended for termination.
It's not clear yet whether Munroe's evaluations this year ended with an "unsatisfactory" rating. Rovner's statement did not address the evaluations, and the school district has not disclosed them.
In a post published on July 19, 2011, Munroe took aim at the newly negotiated Central Bucks teachers' contract. One problem, she wrote, "was the proviso that teachers' salaries will be frozen if they receive an 'unsatisfactory' on their annual evaluations, and that two 'unsatisfactory' ratings result in termination."
"It seems like an awfully easy way to save money if there's a district shortfall, or to get rid of teachers who are at the top of the pay scale (or who are thorns in the district's sides)," she wrote. "After all, these evaluations are pretty subjective. I do not doubt that it would happen."
Rovner said Tuesday he believes Munroe is being fired for her blog posts.
"This action of the district is a direct result of Natalie exercising her First Amendment constitutional rights to free speech in the past, and is retaliatory for the past," he wrote. "What Natalie wrote in her blog was not in violation of any Central Bucks policy, and it was protected speech under the law and not actionable."
The Teacher's Blog
Natalie Munroe has been a teacher at CB East, one of the top high schools in Pennsylvania, since 2006.
She never identified herself or her school in her blog, entitled “Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket.” Most of her posts were about her life, her friends, her daughter, and her pregnancy with her second child, who was subsequently born during the controversy over her blog posts.
But her blog carried her photo, and the name Natalie M.
She wrote about her colleagues and her life at the high school where, among other classes, she taught Honors English. She said she had taken to eating lunch alone because of conflicts with her colleagues.
But it was a post about her students that propelled the Warminster woman to notoriety.
She wrote about the frustration of having to choose “canned” comments to put on her students’ report cards and suggested alternatives, including:
- “A complete and utter jerk in all ways. Although academically ok, your child has no other redeeming qualities.”
- “One of the few students I can abide this semester!”
- “Has no business being in Academic.”
- “Lazy a--hole.”
- “Just as bad as his sibling. Don’t you know how to raise kids?”
- “Weirdest kid I’ve ever met.”
- “I hear the trash company is hiring…”
- “There’s no other way to say this: I hate your kid.”
It ended with, “Thus, the old adage…if you don’t have anything nice to say…say 'cooperative in class.'"
A piece of clip art that accompanied the post particularly enraged disability advocates and Central Bucks school board members and administrators.
It depicted a special-needs school bus and read, “I don’t care if you lick windows, take the special bus, or occasionally pee on yourself, you hang in there sunshine, you’re friggin’ special.”
The post was from 2010, but in February 2011, Munroe’s blog was discovered, and students and parents soon emailed the link across cyberspace. They flooded CB East principal Abe Lucabaugh's office with angry phone calls.
Some students used the occasion to lash back at Munroe, calling her vulgar names, as well as the "worst teacher I ever had."
The story quickly went very, very public, from local news outlets to CNN, MSNBC and the BBC.
Competing Facebook pages were launched, supporting or bashing Munroe. An MSNBC poll garnered nearly 84,000 votes, 97% of whom voted that Munroe should not be suspended - though school district administrators and board members pointed out that the national media reported only Munroe's less inflammatory comments about students.
Rovner said support poured in from around the globe.
"Her comments opened up discussion and debate about the state of education in our country," he said, "and about problems in our classrooms where educators are afraid to voice their opinions."
When Munroe published her blog, Central Bucks had no specific policies about what its employees could do or say online.
That changed in September, when administrators unveiled sweeping policies against certain online behaviors. One included a restriction on making disparaging remarks about students.
Laws, the superintendent, said then that language had "not been part of the original policy because the thinking was it wasn’t necessary. Now we know that it is."
Officially called the "Electronic Communications and Social Media/Networking" policy and the "Freedom of Speech in Nonschool Settings" policy, some took to calling them the Munroe Doctrine.