Keith Allison was an elementary school tutor in rural Ohio who happens to be a vegan. He promotes veganism on his Facebook page and one such post said “the cruelty of separation, loneliness, an infant slaughter lingers inside each glass of cow’s milk. Your voice can change the system. You don’t have to support this. Plant-based milks are everywhere and are delicious.” He also posted photos of baby calves in small crates.
As far as a school employee expressing their personal views on a public forum goes, that seems pretty innocuous, right? But for this he was fired. Why? The reason emerged in a lawsuit that he filed against the school district.
The lawsuit says that once the school district’s administration found out about the post, Superintendent Judy Robinson and a school principal met with him, and Robinson said the community “had a large number of dairy farmers, and that teachers needed to be careful not to offend the local agricultural industry.”
Note that it is not clear who had actually complained. But whoever reported Allison’s post to the authorities seemed to feel that a single person’s post on veganism, a movement that is growing but is still small and hardly a threat to Big Dairy, could cause enough dairy farmers to get upset that they might – do what exactly? Stampede their cattle through the school parking lot, similar to something out of old cowboy films? And of course, there was the inevitable Streisand Effect in that as a result of the school district’s ham-handed (ha!) response, many more people have now heard of Allison’s veganism.
This kind of absurd over-reaction by school administrators, similar to things like zero-tolerance policies that result in even very young children having the police called on them for the most trivial of actions because they violate the letter of some rule, is partly a result of the vilification of public schools by the Republicans and Tea Partiers. School administrators are now terrified of any negative public reaction and thus follow strictly the letter of the law, even when such actions violate common sense, or act preemptively to avoid giving anyone even the slightest possible offense.
Allison settled with the school district and they awarded him some money without admitting any guilt. But in the settlement the school district “recognizes the right of staff members, within the confines of the law, to engage in free speech outside the educational setting”. The newspaper article says that Allison agreed to apologize to the owners of the baby calves in the photo, though that does not appear in the settlement.