Q: As we move closer to the March 1, 2022 primary election and the May 7, 2022 Uniform Election Date, we have received several questions from teachers and other staff members who want to be politically active, but need clarification of the rules. Are there restrictions specific to school district employees when it comes to political advertising and participation in other election activities?
A: Yes, there are constraints that apply to employees of all political subdivisions, which includes public school districts. Generally speaking, school employees may not participate in political activity (1) using district resources, or (2) during business hours/work time.
In sum, Texas law prohibits the use of government resources to advocate for or against political causes, such as legislative measures, candidates running for elective office or passage of bond measures. The Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees the application of various ethics-related laws throughout the state, has taken an expansive view on what constitutes “government” or “public resources” for purposes of this prohibition. For example, the use of a school district’s Wi-Fi, a school computer, a copy machine, or mail system have been construed as violations of the Texas Election Code when used by employees to advocate for or against a candidate. Importantly, these violations can lead to criminal charges, so caution is recommended.
As a rule, if a teacher or staff member is “on the clock,” the individual should not engage in political activity. This is true whether the advocacy occurs during the employee’s conference period or when the employee is on a break, as both are considered part of the individual’s workday. Advocacy is also prohibited when an employee is off duty, but nonetheless using district resources, such as a district-issued email account. District employees are free to advocate at home, on weekends, holidays, and at school events (if they are present as a parent or spectator). Employees simply cannot use district time or assets to pursue political interests.
Navigating permissible political advocacy and the use of public funds can be a tricky issue. Should you have any questions, please contact your local school law attorney.