By anyone's measure, Mike Pearce appears to be a phenomenal history teacher. His Ellison High School students in Killeen, Texas had a 99% passing rate on the state history assessment this year. Part of his success is due to the incredible wealth of self-created electronic resources that he employs in his classes. You can see many of them on his web site, www.ushistorynut.com, including multimedia PowerPoint presentations that have been featured in his local newspaper and the ASCD Smartbrief e-mail newsletter:
As an educator and technology advocate, I wish there were more teachers like Mr. Pearce.
As a school law guy, however, I'm also troubled by his web site because it has a hyperlink to one pro-life web site, LifeNews.com, and has banner ads that link to another, lovematters.com (click on screenshot thumbnails for larger images):
This probably would be fine if his web site had no connection to his school. But the site has notes to students, links to his school and district, a hyperlink for parents to sign up for his e-mail list, information for parents like his late homework policy and school supply requests, the district calendar, his district e-mail address, etc. He's very clearly using his site for pedagogical purposes, not just for marketing of his PowerPoint presentations. And therein lies the problem because his school and his district have a legal obligation to be politically and religiously neutral.
Mr. Pearce does have a disclaimer way down at the bottom of his very lengthy home page:
Disclaimer: This page was designed solely by Mr. Pearce at his own expense and was neither approved nor sanctioned by the Killeen Independent School District. The content of Mr. Pearce's site or webpages linked from his site does not necessarily reflect the views of the Killeen Independent School District.
He also appears to be trying to be politically neutral. For example, his home page links to many different political parties, news sources, and news columnists. But nowhere does he seem to have any pro-choice links or ads, nor does he have any explanation of why he has chosen to feature one side of this political / religious / personal issue.
I have never met Mr. Pearce. All evidence points to him being an amazing teacher. But I'm not sure his disclaimer and the fact that it's his personal web site are enough to survive deep legal scrutiny, particularly as the publicity for what's he's doing increases. People are going to logically associate his web site with his school and school district, neither of which could ever get away with links and banner ads for pro-life web sites [as an aside, I'm not sure they could get away with links to the various commercial entities featured on his site either].
I've blogged before about the difficult issues related to school districts allowing and monitoring teachers' use of off-campus web sites for pedagogical purposes. I think Mr. Pearce's site illustrates the challenging questions that I raised in that post. In this case, I think that he either needs to take his site down, remove all connections to his school system, or remove the pro-life aspects. I don't think he can have it all and still pass constitutional muster.
I'm willing to admit that maybe I'm going overboard here, so I'm asking a few school law folks to lend their opinion on this, including Pamela Parker at Texas Teacher Law and Mike Tully at the West Regional Equity Network. I also have invited Mr. Pearce to tell us more about his site and whether he has received any complaints about the pro-life aspects of the site. Hopefully they (and you) will have some time to lend some insights into this complex issue.