Maybe school board elections are needed

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, April 27, 2016

To the Editor:
In the movie “The Majestic,” a [character named] Peter Appleton stands before a congressional committee stating “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press … The First Amendment. It’s what we’re about, if we’d live up to it.

It’s part of the contract every citizen has here. Even though the Constitution and the Bill of Rights … are just pieces of paper with signatures on them … they’re the only contracts that we have that are definitely not subject … to renegotiation. Too many people have paid in blood: People like Luke Trimble and all the sons of Lawson, California. And they deserve better than this.”

Yes, I know Lawson, California is a fictitious city. But I would like to point you toward Bedford, Virginia and “The Bedford Boys” who lost their lives, like thousands of other military members protecting our rights as citizens of this country.

After reading your article about the Franklin School Board suppressing the 1st Amendment Right of citizens to criticize their government, as a retired military member I can say that schools are the No. 1 reason for families when moving. The government wants to know why people don’t move here or if they do they send their kids to another school district.

Listen to what the taxpayers, parents and your employees (teachers) heave to say. Criticism, hard work and vision are paramount for any success. If you are can’t take criticism, then don’t take the job.

Leventhal v. Vista Unified School District (1997), the court wrote: “It seems clear that the Bylaw’s prohibition on criticism of District employees is a content-based regulation. … It is equally clear that the District’s concerns and interests in proscribing public commentary cannot outweigh the public’s fundamental right to engage in robust public discourse on school issues.”

Bach v. School Board of the City of Virginia Beach, a federal district court in Virginia struck down a school board bylaw that prohibited personal attacks during public comments at meetings.

Wilkinson v. Bensalem Township: “Allowing the state to restrict a person’s right to speak based on their identity could quickly lead to the censorship of particular points of view.”

I understand what disruptive is, Luckett v. City of Grand Prairie (2001) that “being disruptive is not confined to physical violence or conduct, but also encompasses any type of conduct that seriously violates rules of procedure that the council has established to government conduct at its meetings.” To limit time, place and manner is definitely within the right.

When any government meeting decides to offer a “public comment” period at an open meeting, it provides that citizens may exercise their First Amendment rights.

Government officials can limit comments to the relevant subject matter, control disruptive or overly repetitive speakers and impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech.

However, when government officials create a public-comment forum, they have created a limited public forum in which greater free-speech protections apply. The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech. The government must treat similarly situated speakers similarly.

Maybe holding elections for the School Board is the answer. It can’t hurt.

Scott Seddon