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What First Amendment rights do parents have?

To the editor,

What First Amendment rights do parents have when they request to address a local school board meeting?

The ability to speak directly to a school board is perhaps the purest and most basic form of citizen participation. When speakers who have been restrained from commenting at public meetings bring constitutional challenges, they’ve generally been successful. Judges have no difficulty recognizing that a government meeting is meant for the airing of complaints, even if that requires naming or criticizing a particular employee.

It’s important for parent advocates who may find themselves speaking before school boards to appreciate the strong First Amendment protection for citizen speech to government officials addressing matters of public concern.

Indeed, the First Amendment not only protects the freedom of speech but also the freedom to petition government officials for the redress of grievances, and a restraint on speech to school boards jeopardizes both of these rights.
When a member of the public takes to the microphone to complain about a school superintendent’s performance, it’s almost always because lower-volume options have been tried and failed. When a parent feels compelled to resort to the podium to air a grievance, it should be recognized as suggesting a weakness in the school superintendent’s dispute-resolution process.
Nov. 13, 2018, I sent Mr. Greg Hamilton a letter stating I expected a written response from him as well as a follow-up phone call to explain to me how he was going to address my daughter’s unexcused absences at Tharptown Elementary School. I never received a letter or phone call so went to the school board office and asked for an appointment to see Mr. Hamilton, and no appointment was ever made for me.

I then went back to the school board office in early December 2018 and asked to be put on the January 2019 school board meeting agenda to address the board about their student absentee policies. My request was ignored.

Junior Vinson