Sep 18, 2018, 9:55 AM
Returning to respond to your September 13 email comments, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the foundation of our civil liberty. The freedoms that it lists are crucial to our society. When we read accounts of how these freedoms can be abridged, limited or ignored, we react with horror. However, it is also important to acknowledge that, in the matter of free speech, the First Amendment does not allow all speech as there are limits to public permitted speech.
“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”
These words have been interpreted to allow words and actions of an extraordinary breadth and variety. In public meetings, people sometimes engage in hateful, vicious, personal and wide-ranging attacks on institutions and individuals, waving the banner of free speech.
The school board with the help of our legal counsel tries to manage these limited disruptions and keep meetings on track without violating the First Amendment.
As a governing body, the Board of Education has the right to establish acceptable rules for conduct in meetings. This principle is enshrined in state law, in Robert’s Rules of Order, and by court decisions. Consistent with this principle, there are written district policies BEDH, Public Participation at Meetings, and KFA, Public Conduct on School Property. Access to both of these policies can be acquired through the Jeffco Public Schools website: http://www.
Consistent with best practices, these policies establish time limits on remarks, prohibitions for offensive speech, personal attacks, insult, etc. and procedure for handling a situation when a speaker violates the policy.
Unfortunately, we are not aware of a speaker’s intent during public comment but we do our best to stay sharp and interrupt individuals who violate our policies. As I recall, the comments of Ms. Wendy McCord came at the very end of her comment and without notice so she was not interrupted; however, should she sign-up for public comment in the future she would receive a warning prior to speaking as we have practiced with other speakers more recently.
Board members honor the First Amendment and have established rules designed to protect such speech for the engagement of our community to the best of our legal ability, and prepare to act when an action parting from these policies occurs in our meetings.
I appreciate this opportunity to respond to your concerns. Thank you for writing to the Board of Education.
Secretary, Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education