NATICK – The ACLU of Massachusetts and the law firm Todd & Weld today filed a lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court against the Natick School Committee on behalf of Corey Spaulding and Karin Sutter, two mothers of former Natick Public School students.
The suit seeks to protect the free speech rights of the plaintiffs and others.
Spaulding and Sutter seek a court order that the School Committee may not silence members of the public who engage in protected speech based on the content of that speech, particularly at the very time and place the School Committee designated for free speech.
“The School Committee shut down Spaulding’s and Sutter’s attempts to express their deep-seated concerns about the operation of the Natick Public Schools, which they sought to express during the School Committee’s designated period for “any individual to voice an opinion or concern on any school-related issue that is not on the [School Committee] agenda,” called Public Speak. The School Committee did so in reliance upon an unconstitutionally overbroad policy that claims to allow the School Committee to regulate speech on the basis of the content of that speech, and for practically any reason at all. The School Committee has claimed it can silence speech, for example, because it finds the speech “improper,” not “appropriate,” or “sensitive”,” stated the court filing.
At the January 8 “Public Speak,” the School Committee silenced Spaulding’s attempt to express her concerns about the emotional harm bullying at the Natick Public Schools caused her daughter (00:49), according to the court filing.
Members of the School Committee repeatedly interrupted her and then suspended the meeting, according to the court filing.
At the February 5 “Public Speak,” Sutter was instructed to stop speaking – including under the threat of being escorted out of the meeting – when she commented on the hostile environment in the Natick Public Schools (11:15), according to the court filing.
The School Committee again censored her second attempt on March 12 (1:29), according to the court filing.
“I was stunned and saddened that the School Committee did everything in their power, including calling the police, to stop me from speaking. I simply wanted to voice my concerns about the harm my daughter suffered, and then for my daughter to have the opportunity express herself to the School Committee,” said Spaulding, in a press release.
“I cannot understand why the School Committee would not let me speak about the hostile environment of the Natick Public Schools my children and I experienced,” said Sutter, in a press release. “I would hope that in the future the School Committee sticks to their own concept of ‘Public Speak’ as a place for any individual to voice concerns about the schools.”
“The School Committee’s policy on speech is just a collection of vague excuses for silencing unwanted voices. It is difficult to conceive of a speech policy that more directly violates the free speech rights of members of the public,” said Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld LLP, who
represents Spaulding and Sutter as cooperating counsel with the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a media release.
“In our free society, government officials may not silence speech in a public forum based on their disapproval of the content or views being expressed. Yet this is exactly what the Natick School Committee is doing,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior attorney for the ACLU of
Massachusetts, in a media release.
Spaulding and Sutter are seeking a speedy hearing from the court on their request for a preliminary order to prevent the School Committee from continuing to enforce its unconstitutional speech policy.