Monday, January 26, 2015

School board needs to stop daydreaming about restricting free speech

Here we go again. Our school board is talking yet again about community comment at board meetings. Tomorrow’s agenda includes a Powerpoint presentation (as if board meetings were not sleep-inducing enough already) about all the possible ways to restrict speech by members of the public at public meetings. The agenda item was requested by board member Marla Swesey.

Wasting more time on that topic would be bad enough, but the Powerpoint includes at least one slide that is outright misleading about what the First Amendment permits:

There is absolutely no legal basis for suggesting that the school board could restrict public speakers to “respectful” and “professional” comments. (See this series of posts.) If the board tries it, the district will get sued, will spend money needlessly on litigation, and will lose the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, this was the scene at the Eastside Elementary Orchestra concert at City High last week:

Yes, there were about a hundred people in the balcony, but the main floor, which would normally be crowded, was virtually empty, because fourth grade orchestra was eliminated in the budget cuts that hit the music program (and several other programs) last year. At least one member of the music staff went home after the concert and cried. Now we’re being warned that more cuts are on the way.

To spend one more minute, or risk even one dime, on trying to force community commenters to be more “respectful,” when the district has real problems like that to deal with, is a sign that board members are out of touch with the people they represent.

Kudos to board members Jeff McGinness and Tuyet Dorau, who voted against spending any more time on this futile enterprise. Great post by Mary Murphy on the First Amendment and community comment here..


pooter said...

Could not agree more.

Julie VanDyke said...

Last night I testified before the IA House Education Committee to advocate for adequate funding for K-12 instead of the break Public Ed 1.25% State Supplemental Aid in HF 80 they will start debating today.

6% is needed. Iowa is currently 35th in spending on K-12 and, apparently, we're aiming for lowest. Doesn't work for me. I wish I'd spoken better but got nervous with the ICCSD's Board President and Superintendent skulking about in the room...since they've been, IMO, doing all they can, inc. false accusation in the media, to terminate my First Amendment rights to speak at ICCSD Board Meetings. I hadn't expected to see them there. Yep, just long enough to shake me up last night but not even a nod of thanks for trying to support public ed funding after the meeting.

Oh well, I did the best I could and had the spine to stand up for what matters to me. I was invited back to the House to watch debate today by a gracious Representative. I was also very encouraged last night after getting to speak with several other fine Representatives, and my favorite new Senator, before and/or after the meeting. It was kind of them and much appreciated.

We'll see if I'm able to go back today, since I got to stay nearby with my favorite AFSCME Steward Parole Officer friend, to watch the House debate it since, tonight at 6:00pm, there is another delightful ICCSD School Board Meeting to attend to see my and another's right to speak attacked AGAIN. Gosh, couldn't be that multi-million General Obligation Bond (property taxes) they want to build more schools the state isn't funding teachers for staffing...or... next summer's school board election influencing their attacks could it?

Tonight they're likely to threaten to take away everyone's right to speak in Community Comment or on individual agenda items by terminating all public comment on agenda items just to try to intimidate me and whip up their cronies to attack another speaker and me (it wouldn't be the first time...think we're on about round 4 of it). But that's on them. If they cut public comment or agenda item comment at our school board doesn't justify them blaming it on anyone but those on the board that vote to do so.

For context, our district administration's unofficial 2nd in command's UI College of Law thesis topic was on how to deprive Public Ed K-12 kids of their First Amendment rights. Seriously, WHO DOES THAT?