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

(Thursday,10/12/2017 ©

WTVC - TV Chattanooga)WALKER COUNTY, Ga. — 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.

A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules the Walker County Dept of Education's public speaking policy unconstitutional.

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

"I feel like any taxpayer should br 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.

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