Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Citizen speakers prohibited by school board from duplicating others' comments

The public comment portion of a Mount Laurel Board of Education meeting (the date of the meeting is not known) is on YouTube here.

The comments are from students and parents praising and supporting certain teachers. By sliding the timer to 6:15, viewers will witness the board's determination that since the speakers are all making similar comments, future speakers will be ejected from the meeting unless the topics of their comments are "different" than what the board has already heard.

N.J.S.A. 10:4-12 requires school boards to provide a public portion during which citizens may speak about "any governmental or school district issue that a member of the public feels may be of concern to the residents of the municipality or school district." The same statute, however, allows school boards to "regulate the active participation of the public at any meeting."

I question whether the statute's grant of power to "regulate" public comment is broad enough to permit the board to censor comments that it perceives to be merely duplicative of prior comments.

I note that recently, a woman received an $8,000 settlement after the mayor of Cedar Grove Township denied her the right to speak. My blog on that case is here.

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