So, yesterday we reported on a town that banned negative comments on its social media sites. Today, we are reporting on a school board that banned an individual from attending school board meetings for two years. Do you think we have similar First Amendment issues? A federal court in Vermont said yes in Cyr v. Addison Rutland.
Last September, a federal judge ruled that the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union School District violated Marcel Cyr's constitutional right to free speech and due process when it issued no-trespass orders that banned him from school property. The Cyrs raised a variety of concerns with the District about their two sons' education, and the Cyrs frequently filed requests for documents (as much as 5,000 records). The Cyrs displayed signs on their family car and handed out flyers criticizing the school. The Cyrs also frequently attended school board meetings. School officials and employees testified in court that they felt threatened by the Cyrs because he shouted at meetings, clenched his fists, drove by teachers' homes, and honked when they passed the school. The notice to trespass was issued in September, and then was withdrawn when the parties were working out a communication protocol. That fell through when Mr. Cyr failed to meet with a school-hired psychologist and after Mr. Cyr allegedly posted statements online that compared teachers to snakes that are best dealt with by removing their heads. A second notice to trespass was issued in March. The school offered to allow Mr. Cyr to attend meetings telephonically, which he refused. He filed suit against the district shortly thereafter.
The district court first rejected Cyr's argument that there is a First Amendment right of access to a school board meeting, finding no such federal right in the U.S. Constitution. The court did, however, find that school board meetings are a limited public forum, and the ban did violate Cyr's right of free expression. Specifically, the court held that physical participation in open school board meetings is a form of local governance, and to the extent Cyr was prevented from attending those meetings to communicate directly with elected officials, his First Amendment right of free expression was violated. The court also held that Cyr's due process rights were violated when the school issued the no-trespass orders without providing him a hearing or other process.
Since the court ruled in Cyr's favor on the right of free expression and due process claims, the parties have since settled the case, resulting in a $147,500 payment to the Cyrs.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf