Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This School Board Leader Tried to Rig a Public Forum in Favor of Transgender Advocates. That’s Unconstitutional

Stacking the deck at the casino makes for bad feelings among friends.

Things get more serious when you’re a government official stacking the deck at public forums with speakers in favor of your personal political views. That not only makes for bad public policy—it violates the First Amendment.

The Prince William County Virginia School Board convened last Wednesday to vote on a proposed rule that would undermine the principle of student privacy between the sexes. It would have laid the groundwork for opening up sex-specific locker rooms, showers, and other private facilities to members of the opposite sex.

Many parents have legitimate convictions that maleness and femaleness are essential biological, anatomical attributes, and they would like to openly defend the policy of maintaining privacy between the sexes, despite the claims of gender identity advocates.

Nonetheless, before the meeting, Ryan Sawyers, school board chairman, sent a text to the clerk telling her to frontload a list of favored speakers to comment before those who had already signed up.

This violated local school board rules, which say the public is to speak in the order that each citizen contacts the clerk.

This is particularly significant because at Prince William County Public School board meetings, only 10 to 15 people get to speak before the vote, since initial public comment is limited to 30 minutes. Everybody else has to wait until after the vote to make their views known.

But dishing out political leftovers to one’s opponents and frontloading the initial discussion with allies goes beyond violating local school board policy. It’s flatly unconstitutional.

School board meetings must protect viewpoint neutrality to satisfy First Amendment principles of free speech. If a school board chooses to open a forum for public comment, the process of determining who speaks cannot be determined by the viewpoint of the speaker.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agrees.

In Child Evangelism Fellowship of MD, Inc. v. Montgomery County Public Schools, the majority opinion notes that “‘the state may be justified in reserving [its forum] for certain groups or for the discussion of certain topics,’ subject only to the limitation that its actions must be viewpoint-neutral and reasonable.”

And just last week, the Supreme Court reiterated in Matal v. Tam that government officials cannot “regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others.”

The traditional method of letting people speak in the order they sign up with the clerk is an orderly way to achieve these objectives. But giving the chairman the power to decide who speaks before the vote does not satisfy these criteria.

If the chairman is not bound by a limiting principle, then he has unbridled discretion to determine who can use the coveted 30 minutes of speech. It will be difficult, over time, for him not to hand-pick allies, particularly since he is a Democratic candidate for Congress.

Indeed, the first speaker on the chairman’s list, Danica Roem, is also a political player, a local Democrat recently nominated to run against incumbent Republican Bob Marshall in a Virginia House of Delegates race.

To be clear, after the chairman’s text messages were made public and Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to Prince William County Public Schools, the chairman did not stick to his original plan on Wednesday night.

But it remains unclear whether the final speaking order came from a new alternative list he created, or whether he reverted back to school board policy and used the original list of speakers, based on the order that local citizens signed up to speak.

That is precisely the problem. In the American system of ordered liberty, government officials don’t have the power to make that choice. They cannot dish out fast passes for the view they like while relegating opposing views to second-class status.

Rather, if officials choose to set up times for public comment, they must set up an orderly process that respects the free speech of all participants.

All voices should equally receive free speech protection, because our Constitution recognizes that when the government plays favorites, everyone’s freedom flounders.


UK: Exeter school’s uniform resolve melts after boys’ skirt protest

The US constitution has long guaranteed the right to bear arms – but now the schoolboys of Exeter have gone one better and won the right to bare legs.

Britain’s heatwave this week sparked open rebellion at Isca academy in Devon, with boys wearing skirts in protest at rules that insisted male pupils wear long trousers even as temperatures soared into the mid-30s.

By the end of the week the school’s icy resolve finally melted in the glare of international exposure.

The Exeter secondary school has announced that boys will soon be able to choose to wear shorts instead of its tartan trousers, after the “box-pleat rebellion” caught the attention of media around the world.

Aimee Mitchell, the school’s headteacher, sent a message to parents saying that shorts would be allowed – but only from next school year – after consulting with pupils and parents.

The school also confirmed that the boys involved in the protest would not be punished for wearing skirts.

“Parents and pupils will be aware that the hot weather these last few days has prompted interest in our school uniform policy, and notably the trousers, rather than shorts, worn by our male students,” the school noted wryly in a “hot weather and school uniform update” on its website.

“Contrary to news reports, we have not banned shorts; shorts are simply not part of our school uniform.

“However, as summers are becoming hotter, shorts will be introduced as part of our school uniform next year having first consulted with students and parents. We feel that introducing a change in uniform partway through this year would put undue pressure on some of our families.”

The uniform policy became a burning issue as summer warmed up, with the first rebels coming to school in shorts. When male pupils protested that the girls were allowed bare legs, the school said the boys were free to wear skirts if they chose – and so they did, after borrowing skirts from their sisters and female friends.

Ryan Lambeth, a year 10 pupil who was among the ringleaders, told the Exeter Express and Echo: “They kept telling us off for wearing shorts and I kept getting excluded. It happened three times.

“We kept talking about wearing skirts and on Tuesday I thought – right, I’m just going to do it. Then on Wednesday there were five of us. Today there were 50-plus people.”

As the revolution picked up momentum, the world’s media began to take interest. Devon county council staff were called in to help the school handle the flood of inquiries.

But a spokesperson for the school said it did make concessions to the blistering heat of the past week.

“Our summer uniform allows students not to wear their jumper or blazer. Also, recognising the recent temperatures, students have also been allowed not to wear ties, to have the top button on their shirts undone, and to wear their shirts untucked if they are feeling very hot,” the school said.

There is no evidence that the skirted rebellion has caught on outside Devon – many schools already allow shorts as a summer uniform option, while others have even more options.


Australia: South Yarra Primary School parents call for new classrooms, tougher school zone restrictions

There are so many problematic government schools that parents are desperate to get their kids into a good one

South Yarra Primary School parents say the school is bursting at the seams, with some families faking where they live and renting properties in the zone.

The parents say the number of new enrolments almost exceeds the school’s capacity to cope, and are worried that class sizes will blow out.

Mr Merlino urged parents stop lying their way into popular areas.  “This isn’t great for the parents, it’s not great for the children,” the Deputy Premier told 3AW. “Parents should work by the rules and if you are designated in a school zone you are entitled to go to that school.

“Local kids deserve to go to their local school and they should have the first opportunity to do so.”

South Yarra Primary School council president Jason Le Busque said South Yarra Primary’s high National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test results made it a popular choice for parents.

This meant some families who lived outside the school zone would rent properties in the zone just so that their child was eligible to enrol.

“We do have some evidence that there has been some families who have rented one bedroom flats and they’re a family of three kids and two adults. They’re certainly not living there,” he said.

School council parents are pushing for the zone to be made smaller as a result, and they want the Department of Education to commit to capital works that would see new classrooms built.

They also want families to sign a statutory declaration stating that they intend to live in the zone for the duration of their child’s enrolment, and will notify the school if they move out.

Parent Emily Keon-Cohen said new modular classrooms opened at the school earlier this year were already at capacity, and there were plans to use the library and multipurpose room as classrooms next year. “We may be the only school in the state without a library and a multipurpose room,” she said.

The Leader understands that South Yarra Primary School Principal Neven Paleka is working with the Department of Education to address rising enrolments, but the paper was unable to speak with him.

Education Department spokesman Alex Munro said the department installed a three-storey relocatable classroom at the school earlier this year.

The Government was also building two new primary schools in Melbourne’s inner-south to meet the community’s needs, and information provided by the department said South Yarra Primary’s zone was currently under review.

“South Yarra Primary School’s enrolment pressure is regularly discussed with the school,” Mr Munro said.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria data released mid-last year revealed the median house price for homes within the South Yarra Primary School zone was $244,500 higher than those outside it.


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