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Circuit Court: Walker Co. school district's public speaking policy is unconstitutional

A US circuit court has ruled the Walker County Department of Education's public speaking policy to be unconstitutional. (Image: MGN)

UPDATE (Thursday, 8:54pm):

Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines released a statement Thursday night in response to the Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling on Dr. Barrett's lawsuit against the school system.

In the statement, Superintendent Raines says that Dr. Barrett's right to speak at a February 2015 school board meeting had not been violated, but that the meeting had been cancelled due to bad weather. When the next meeting was held on March 10th, Raines says Barrett did not attend the meeting, and did so without notice to either the board or superintendent.

Raines also says that the issue decided by the Court of Appeals was whether the law required the board's public comment policy to contain a time limit within which the superintendent would schedule a meeting with someone wanting to speak with the school board.

You can read the entire statement by Superintendent Raines below:


PREVIOUSLY (Wednesday):

A US circuit court has ruled the Walker County school district's public speaking policy to be unconstitutional.

"I'm very pleased it upholds teacher rights to speak freely and cling to the first amendment," said Dr. Jim Barrett.

The decision comes after two years of litigation. The case started after an 8th grade teacher in the district, Dr. Jim Barrett, said he wasn't allowed to speak at a Board of Education meeting about the district's grading policy, despite following the proper procedure.

The Walker County Department of Education's public participation policy for board meetings is a three step process.

Prior to making a request to be heard by the Board, individuals or organizations shall meet with the Superintendent and discuss their concerns. If necessary, the Superintendent shall investigate their concerns, and within ten work days, report back to the individual or organization. After meeting with the Superintendent, individuals or organizations still desiring to be heard by the Board shall make their written request to the Superintendent at least one week prior to the scheduled meeting of the Board stating name, address, purpose of request, and topic of speech.

Tax payers in Walker County say they're pleased with the court's ruling.

"I feel like any taxpayer should be allowed to go into the meetings and say whatever they want to," said Christina Harris. "It's our right as a tax payer and it helps. The kids need a voice."

The court ruled the district's superintendent had too much power over who could or could not speak under the policy.

"The 11th circuit has now ruled that the superintendent did have too much discretion," said Gerry Weber, Barrett's attorney. "That the superintendent did have unconstitutional power to deny Dr. Barrett the right to speak."

Weber says the ruling will affect all school districts in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. He said it will also impact city council and county commission meetings.

"It will be the precedent that establishes citizens' rights to speak before public bodies," said Weber. "It's a huge thing."

Dr. Barret's attorneys say the case cost taxpayers $200,000. It is not clear how much it cost on the school board's end.

The superintendent's office has not yet said what they're going to change in light of the court ruling.

In April 2016, a U.S. Federal District Court judge granted a permanent injunction against the Walker County School Board for its policy of limiting comments on issues of importance from the public, and from school employees.

You can read the full Circuit Court ruling below:

Depend on us to update this story as we learn more.

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