Fed court grants permanent injunction against school board limiting free speech

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ROME — In a decisive free-speech win for teachers across Georgia, the U.S. Federal District Court in Rome, Judge Harold Murphy presiding, granted a permanent injunction against the Walker County School Board and its policy of limiting comments on issues of importance from the public and in this case an employee of the system.
County teacher and Walker County Association of Educators’ President Jim Barrett, sued the Walker County Board of Education to assert his right to speak publicly in opposition to the change in grading procedures in the district. The district’s policy placed substantial impediments on a teacher’s right to speak at public board meetings. The ruling is in response to a filed motion by Barrett’s attorneys, Gerry Weber and Craig Goodmark, assigned to him from his association, the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), to immediately and permanently stop the district from enforcing their illegal policy.
“This ruling confirms the unconstitutional nature of the policy that was in place to be used by the superintendent,”said Barrett.  He notes that in his decision, Judge Murphy said, “A rule or ordinance that gives public officials the power to decide whether to permit expressive activity must contain precise and objective criteria on which they must make their decision; an ordinance that gives too much discretion to public officials is invalid.” Barrett continues that, “the policy prohibited complaints against employees of the district. The superintendent is an employee of the district and he should have allowed me to speak against the standards. Judge Murphy correctly ruled that this was a classic case of viewpoint discrimination.”
Weber said, “The school board’s policy allowed the superintendent to silence speech he disagreed with. Judge Murphy held that everyone, especially teachers, should be able to talk directly to their school board on issues of public concern to them and their students.”
“Now, Mr. Barrett will be able to talk frankly with the school board about his GAE membership’s concerns with the grading policy,” said Goodmark.
GAE President Sid Chapman added,” This case once again confirms the first amendment right of our educators to speak out and against policies they feel are harmful to their students and public education overall.”