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Mount Vernon Tramples Upon Parents "Free Speech" Rights

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Mount Vernon Tramples Upon Parents "Free Speech" Rights

August 31, 2008 - 23:23

The Mount Vernon Board of Education has responded to an incident involving criticism from irate parents, unhappy about poor performing schools, by suspending their First Amendment rights to free speech and their right to petition their government on the specious grounds that children might be harmed by "cursing" and harsh tones or loud noises.

The Journal News reports:

The city school district has released a new set of rules for public participation at Board of Education meetings that ask the public to fill out speaker cards, end a custom of sharing minutes, and warn speakers about disruptive or rude behavior.

The Board of Education announced the revised policy at a work session and special meeting Wednesday. Board president Charles Stern said the changes were aimed at making meetings more orderly and setting a better example for young people.

The District is now going to require speakers provided detailed information about who they are and where they live in order to address public meetings in a public building during the public comment period - a practice which is not only unconstitutional but is likely to discourage undocumented workers to come forward with problems or complaints.

While apparently not understanding the full nature of the threat to "free speech" inherent in the District's policy, one Board member has expressed reservations about the District's new policy:

School board member Elias Gootzeit said the board should be cautious about how it proceeds, particularly because of a history when public speech was limited. He also said the revised policy was in part a response to a heated exchange at a recent meeting.