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ACLU Raises Concerns Over Westerly School Committee Proposal That Could Limit Free Speech of Members

Posted: February 04, 2015|Category: Free Speech

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today urged the Westerly School Committee to reject a proposal that would require committee members to support all committee decisions, limit members’ ability to discuss committee matters in public and establish consequences for violating these restrictions.

In a letter to the members of the Westerly School Committee, ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown said this proposed policy, scheduled to be considered by the committee Wednesday night, raises “potentially serious First Amendment concerns” and asked that the committee either reject the proposal or postpone a vote to allow for revisions to be made.

The letter states: “School committee members have a right to express their objections to a school committee vote even if, as the policy notes, they are bound by it. They do not lose their right to free speech merely by being members of a majoritarian body, nor should their ability to express dissent be limited in time to the formal discussion of a motion at a school committee meeting.”

The ACLU of RI contacted the school committee after hearing from a number of concerned residents about the proposal. Brown noted that while the letter focused on the policy’s impact on school committee members, its real impact will be felt on members of the public.

“It is they who will ultimately be deprived of information from their representatives and deprived of the give and take that is essential in debating important issues of public policy – a give and take that should not be confined to the few hours each month that the school committee meets,” the letter stated.

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