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How Is This Antisemitism Hearing Different From Ones on College Campuses?

In some ways, the issues at stake on Wednesday are identical to the ones that ensnared college presidents who appeared before the House committee. The K-12 leaders will face similar questions about how to respond to incidents of antisemitism and anti-Israel activism, including some clear incidents of hate speech.

But key differences may emerge when it comes to the question of how education leaders should handle pro-Palestinian speech and protest. The legal and professional standards that govern K-12 public schools are more constrained than those that apply to higher education leaders.

“The difference between the First Amendment on college campuses and in high schools is roughly the difference between noon and midnight,” said Justin Driver, a professor at Yale Law School and an expert on how constitutional law applies to schools.

Public school teachers do not typically have the same academic freedom rights that colleges grant professors. While teachers exercise significant discretion in the classroom, they are expected to offer lessons that hew to state and district curriculum guidelines. And courts have said that public employers, including school districts, have the right to impose some limits on the free speech of their employees.

Federal courts have generally ruled that public school students have the right to express their political views, as long as they do so in ways that are not disruptive. But districts have wide latitude to tamp down on protests, such as walkouts, if they cause a disturbance.

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