Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to press

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Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to press

Postby curt » Thu Mar 27, 2014 12:13 am

This is absolutely not enforceable. You don't check your rights at the door when you join a town or school committee. School committees have statutory rights to regulate schools and employees. There is no right to regulate the conduct of board members.
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March 26, 2014
Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to press
Chairman speaks for board, raising concern for some

By Alex Lippa alippa@eagletribune.com

PLAISTOW — The Timberlane Regional School Board has barred all members from speaking to the press, except the chairman.

The rule is one of eight approved by the board, 7-2, at its first meeting after Town Meeting.

“This is a rule which has always been in our operating procedure,” Chairman Nancy Steenson of Danville said. “Now, we have decided to just put some rules down on paper.”

The rule states that all communication with the press will be done by the chairman. Board members contacted by reporters are not allowed to comment, but are directed to tell them to contact the chairman.

“It makes a lot of sense because we want to send out a unified voice as a board,” Steenson said. “We’re here to serve Timberlane and we’re here to do the best by Timberlane. It wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest to do otherwise.”

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said he wasn’t sure if there were any laws in place to prevent the rule, but he said he doesn’t agree with it.

“An elected person has the right to speak their mind,” Scanlan said. “You don’t see the Speaker of the House saying, ‘I’m the only one to speak for this body.’”

Timberlane School Board members Donna Green of Sandown and Peter Bealo of Plaistow were the only members to vote against adopting the rules. Green declined to comment yesterday; Bealo could not be reached for comment.

But at the School Board meeting last Thursday, both spoke against the proposal.

“I understand that the chair speaks for the board, but prior to something being discussed and voted upon, I believe we each have the ability to discuss things with the press,” Bealo said at the meeting. “I’m not going to vote in favor of something that says I cannot speak to the press under any circumstances.”

Green agreed with Bealo.

“I understand the need for solidarity, but we didn’t give up the right to free speech,” she said at the meeting. “We have equal authority and we should be free to express our opinions before and after a vote. We are not here for the board, but for the people we represent and the students of the district.”

The rules were written by Rob Collins of Danville, former chairman and current board member. At the meeting, Collins said the rules were not about limiting opinions.

“There’s a lot of information exchanged about issues all the time, so the chair is in the best position to share the most up-to-date information about Timberlane,” Collins said then. “We don’t want yesterday’s information going into the newspaper when it could have changed 180 degrees in the last 24 hours.”

While the rule limits communication with the media, Steenson said, board members are still free to speak to their constituents.

“People are free to call their representatives if they have any issues,” she said. “The press is one way to get information, but it’s not the only way.”

In some other local school districts, board chairmen saw no problem with other members speaking to the press.

“As long as they make it clear that they are speaking as an individual person, and not for the entire board, I’ve got no issues with it,” Pelham School Board Chairman Brian Carton said. “I certainly wouldn’t tell a board member that they can’t talk to press. People have a right to speak.”

Salem School Board Chairman Bernard Campbell said this board doesn’t have any policies that limit communication with the press.

“I think our board and current members are very competent to decide when they feel that comments should come directly from the superintendent on an issue, and when that’s not the case,” he said.

But Derry School Board Chairman Brenda Willis said it has been the practice of her board for a long time.

“We speak with one voice,” she said. “It’s part of the job of the chairman of the board. We generally have consensus of what someone would be speaking of.”

But the Derry School Board does not specifically ban members from speaking to reporters.

“People do have freedom of speech,” Willis said. “But I would expect them to make it clear that they are speaking as a resident, not for the board.”

Gilles Bissonnette, staff attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said it is hard to enforce prior restraint, but did believe the Timberlane School Board is limiting free speech.

“Commenting to the press is a quintessential activity of a politician, where they communicate their ideas to their constituents,” he said.

Michael Mascola of Atkinson was the only other Timberlane Regional School Board member to comment on the rules.

“It is a great idea because it presents harmony of sending a unified message,” Mascola said. “I have the ability to give my view to my chairperson and I have all the faith that she can share that message with the press.”
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby SBinRockrimmon » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:12 am

The rules were written by Rob Collins of Danville, former chairman and current board member. At the meeting, Collins said the rules were not about limiting opinions.


Why am I not surprised. Today's education system is severely broken. Just another step at getting people use to eroding rights. I can't help but wonder what it is that the SB is so worried about.
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. - Thomas Jefferson

To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical. - Thomas Jefferson

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. - Benjamin Franklin
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby safety frog » Sun Mar 30, 2014 12:33 pm

I understand the reason but this goes too far and they should change the policy at the next meeting.
Last edited by safety frog on Wed Apr 02, 2014 2:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby SBinRockrimmon » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:21 am

Defending a clear violation of the BOR looks like a great way to spend school resources. :roll:

http://www.eagletribune.com/latestnews/ ... -gag-order

NHCLU threatens School Board with possible legal action

By Doug Ireland direland@eagletribune.com

PLAISTOW — The Timberlane School Board has been asked to repeal two of its recently adopted rules — or face a potential legal battle.

Two of the eight rules violate free speech rights, according to the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

One, Rule 8, prohibits anyone but School Board Chairman Nancy Steenson from speaking to members of the press. The other, Rule 7, declares all board members will support all board decisions, regardless of how they voted.

Both are violations of the First Amendment, according to NHCLU attorney Gilles Bissonnette.

In a three-page letter Friday to the School Board’s attorney, Steenson and Superintendent Earl Metzler, Gilles gave the board until Thursday to repeal the rules or face the consequences.

“We do not believe it is a productive use of anyone’s time or taxpayers’ money for the District to defend such patently unconstitutional rules,” Gilles wrote. “There is no compelling governmental interest that could possibly justify such a substantial intrusion on First Amendment rights.”

Gilles said yesterday he had been contacted by Diane Gorrow, the school district’s attorney, but had not yet discussed the matter with her.

Gorrow did not return a phone message yesterday.

Steenson did not return three phone message requesting comment yesterday. Metzler also did not return three calls. When finally contacted, Metzler said he was too busy to speak.

The board voted March 20 to adopt the rules, by a 7-2 vote. Donna Green of Sandown and Peter Bealo of Plaistow were the only board members to vote in opposition. Both spoke at the meeting about their right to free speech.

Last week, Steenson said the board has always operated under the understanding that only the chairman is allowed to speak to reporters.

The vote two weeks ago just formalized that decision, she said, providing “a unified voice as a board.”

But Bissonnette said the effort appears to be one to “suppress the public speech of board members who disagree with board decisions.”

The First Amendment guarantees that government cannot restrict expression of speech that doesn’t sit well, he pointed out.

School Board members are elected, not hired public employees, Bissonnette said in his letter.

“They should be (and are) able to speak their mind, especially through the media which enables political ideas to reach the largest number of constituents,” he wrote.

Bissonnette said yesterday the NHCLU has not decided if it would definitely take legal action against the School Board if the rules aren’t repealed. If they do go ahead, a lawsuit would be filed in either U.S. District Court or Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood, he said.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

Another option would be to meet with the School Board to try to resolve the issue, he said.

Bissonnette said his organization occasionally challenges town board decisions, but the issues are often resolved before they go to court.

As an example, he cited a decision by the Rochester City Council last month to repeal a panhandling ordinance that the NHCLU contended violated the free speech rights of the poor.

As for Rule 7, requiring individual board members to support all decisions, even those they disagree with, Bissonnette said it, too, violates free speech rights.

“Again, dissent and critique are essential components of democratic government,” he wrote. “ ... Such free speech is essential to a free society.”

The rules were drafted by School Board member Rob Collins of Danville, the former chairman.

The School Board’s meeting Thursday begins at 7:30 p.m. in the superintendent’s office at 30 Greenough Road.
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. - Thomas Jefferson

To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical. - Thomas Jefferson

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. - Benjamin Franklin
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby SBinRockrimmon » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:23 am

One, Rule 8, prohibits anyone but School Board Chairman Nancy Steenson from speaking to members of the press. The other, Rule 7, declares all board members will support all board decisions, regardless of how they voted.


I'm not sure which I find more offensive. I ask again.....What is it the SB is afraid of?
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. - Thomas Jefferson

To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical. - Thomas Jefferson

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. - Benjamin Franklin
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby safety frog » Tue Apr 01, 2014 7:20 am

Kind of funny. We will not be seeing any more posts from Rob anymore. He will have to ask Nancy to post for him going forward on this page to discuss TRSD.
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby AlfredTwo » Wed Apr 02, 2014 8:23 am

These rules are inexcusable. It is fair to say that the only one who can speak for the Board as a whole is the Chairman but to prevent other members from speaking their minds is unconscionable. The Board must remove these rules. They send a very bad message to the public and a poor example for our students.
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Re: Timberlane School Board bars members from talking to pre

Postby shawn_oneil » Thu Apr 03, 2014 5:27 pm

I agree. Your opinion doesn't get checked out at the reciting of your Oath of office. I don't agree with Ms. Green on her viewpoints but she has every right to hit the paper, talk to reports, etc. I know I would never support such a rule for the Board of Selectmen.
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