Groups ask Wake school board not to limit comments

Posted April 30, 2010

Wake County Public School System

— Several civil rights groups on Friday asked the Wake County Board of Education to reconsider a proposed policy that would prevent members of the public from criticizing school board members during public meetings.

In a letter to school board members, the American Civil Liberties Union, the state chapter of the NAACP, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, the N.C. Justice Center and Legal Aid of North Carolina said that the policy would violate people's free-speech rights.

Katherine Parker, executive director of ACLU of North Carolina (American Civil Liberties Union) ACLU: School board cannot restrict comments

A school board committee approved the policy two weeks ago, and the full board is expected to vote on it next Tuesday.

A provision in the proposed policy requires speakers at school board meetings to "refrain from personal attacks and insults directed at the board, staff or other members of the public."

"Who gets to define personal attack? My personal attack might be very different from your personal attack," said Katherine Parker, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina. "That kind of vague language that really censors people's speech is something the ACLU is always going to be concerned about, and our coalition partners are also concerned about as well."

The groups contend that a separate provision of the policy that allows the board chairman to expel anyone who disrupts a meeting should be enough to prevent public comments from getting out of hand, the groups said in the letter. Any limits on people's comments beyond that would be unconstitutional, they said.

"Comments that go directly to an elected school board member's job performance are protected speech, not personal attacks," the groups wrote in the letter. "The new policy limiting 'personal attacks' will likely result in impermissible viewpoint discrimination, especially as it is clear from both the language of the policy as well as from past actions of this board that speech complimenting board members will not be prohibited."

Recent board meetings have included heated comments over the board's decision to drop a policy that assigns students to achieve socio-economic diversity in Wake County schools.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta and others have raised concerns about the angry public comments, and Margiotta has come under fire for a comment he made that compared members of the audience with animals.

The school board also has started issuing tickets for meetings, saying overflow crowds violated fire codes, and placed time limits on people's comments.

Margiotta said he wants the school board's attorney to review the arguments made in the letter. He said he doesn't like being criticized in public but said he understands that people have the right to share their opinions.

"The greatest thing about where we live in this country is the ability, especially on a local level, to tell officials what we think they're doing wrong," Parker said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • oldrwizr May 6, 2010

    A Republican only wants small government when it's something they disagree with. When it's something they adore, like keeping black kids out of their precious childrens' schools, they're all about big government squelching opposition. As I keep saying, these sheeple are the biggest hypocrites on the planet.

  • ncmedic201 Apr 30, 2010

    Some of you may think this is about which side of the board you support but it's not. This is about your RIGHTS. Everyone should be upset about having your constitutional rights being threatened. You may not want to use that right now but in the future you may! And for the person who said that the board is just being nice by allowing these open-door meetings, you are incorrect. It is the law.

  • blackdog Apr 30, 2010

    Some compalin of the involvement of social justice groups. Yet, no one has defended the Americans for Prosperity involvement.

  • YouAgain Apr 30, 2010

    I know this is a little of subject but I noticed that one of the groups is a social justice group. I would really like to know what their argument is towards the school board even though I believe I might already know.

  • lizard Apr 30, 2010

    Maybe they don't need to express their opinions. Most of them have already been heard on WRAL, the papers, magazines. Why should I have to listen to the same mantra over and over again? You trying to indoctrinate me?

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 30, 2010

    Based on the behavior of some of those who oppose the current school board, the term animal isn't that far of a stretch.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 30, 2010

    Our friends on the left including liberals, socialists, marxist, populists, reverse racists, and Democrats believe that freedom of speech allows them to say and do anything that they desire to someone who expresses a viewpoint that's doesn't support their leftist agenda and viewpoints.

    It was once said that Freedom of Speech doesn't allow you to yell fire in a crowded theater.

    Along with Freedom of Speech comes the requirement for mature and responsible behavior.

    When those who oppose the school board shout them down and threaten them, they are not acting maturely and responsible.

  • rand321 Apr 30, 2010

    The public has a right to submit their thoughts and concerns, time a place and forum should be provided to do so. This may not be at the meeting, but a series of meetings, web submissions, etc. to allow for proper, civil comment.

    There is too much hate, resentment and bigotry on both sides of the equations. both sides are guilty!

    The public school system has goals and objectives to meet in educating the students, request money form the tax payers via the county commissioners to fund their policies.

    As elected officials, they have duties to the voters, all residents and citizens, taxpayers (including businesses) and teh various municipalities. they have to weight and balance a lot of interests and needs against one another.

    I personally do not feel the new board is being fiscally responsbile rushing plans through without regards to the long term costs and the long term impact on the community. As a taxpayer, business owner and employer in Wake Co, its crtitical we get the proper

  • NotFromHere Apr 30, 2010

    "openly state their desire for the country to fail because of the president's race!" - oldrwizr

    That's so funny. I've heard people say they want Obama to fail but I never heard his race mentioned in any of those comments. It was always because he was a Democrat, a liberal, a socialist. Do you guys just make this stuff up as you go along? When I grew up this was called lying. I guess today you just call it "liberal reality."

  • Bellamia Apr 30, 2010

    I'm a conservative and believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe that folks get caught up in the heat of the moment at those meetings and yelling and name calling start and it gets out of control. I have been to some of those meetings and it gets way out of hand. Adults start acting like teenagers. Its both sides that are contributing to this, not just one group. Acting civil is the way to go to get your say across.