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Facebook free speech or bad conduct? Either way, teacher may retire

May 18, 2012|By Tina Susman

A New Jersey schoolteacher whose anti-gay Facebook rant set off a firestorm of protests at the school last fall while also raising concerns over free speech issues is considering early retirement to end the case.

Jenye Knox, who goes by the first name Viki, made headlines last October when she registered her disapproval with Union Township High School's acknowledgment of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month by posting comments on her Facebook page. Among other things, she wrote that homosexuality was a "sin" that "breeds like cancer" and that marking LGBT History Month was like parading "unnatural, immoral behavior before the rest of us."

Knox, 50, denied wrongdoing and said she did not intended to offend anyone, but the school district filed charges of "conduct unbecoming" that could end her teaching career; those charges were due to be heard this week before an administrative court judge. Rather than fight the case, the Star-Ledger reported, Knox submitted documents asking that she be allowed to retire on disability from her $72,270-a-year job.

"If I can retire then there is no need for me to go through this unpleasant experience," Knox wrote, according to the Star-Ledger. She repeated that she had done nothing that "warrants me being disciplined," but noted the publicity the case had received in New Jersey. There, it sparked debate over teachers' roles and whether they should express personal opinions on hot-button topics in public forums.

"Avoiding a hearing will allow the local community to start the healing process sooner," Knox wrote.

It could take years for a disability case to be decided; in the meantime, Knox remains suspended from her job without pay. A judge declared the case "inactive" for the next three months while Knox prepares her disability filing.

Hundreds of people rallied for and against Knox after her Facebook page gained notoriety, with some demanding she be fired and others arguing that being a teacher does not forbid you from expressing personal, controversial opinions.

The American Civil Liberties Union was among Knox's defenders. "Although we do not agree with the sentiments expressed on Ms. Knox’s personal Facebook page, her comments are protected by the 1st Amendment," the organization's New Jersey legal director, Ed Barocas, said at the time.

But others said Knox, a deeply religious woman who also served as the school's Bible study advisor, should know better than to post contentious comments.


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