Judge grants permanent injunction against Walker Co. School Board free speech policy
A judge in U.S. Federal District Court has 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.
Supporters of the decision, including the Georgia Association of Educators, call it a victory for free speech and for teachers across Georgia.
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.
Judge Harold Murphy ruled that the district's policy placed substantial impediments on a teacher's right to speak at public board meetings. The ruling was in response to a filed motion by Barrett's attorneys, 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."
One of Barrett's attorneys, Gerry 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 Dr. 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."
The Walker County School Board has not yet responded to this ruling. Depend on us to publish their response when they do.
Read Judge Murphy's full ruling: