Teachers’ union sues Minnesota school district over policy it calls ‘gag order’ – InForum

ST. PAUL — The union representing teachers in Becker, Minn., has filed a lawsuit against the Becker School District over a policy it says violates free speech rights. Teachers and union officials called the policy a “gag”.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Sherburne County District Court, relates to a communications plan approved by the Becker school board in May. The Becker Education Association says the plan violates the free speech provision of the state constitution. The complaint says the policy is “antithetical to the values ​​of public education, which encourages personal growth and debate.”

Becker School District leaders have yet to respond to MPR News’ requests for comment on the lawsuit.

A draft of the Becker School District’s communications plan prohibits district employees from making statements to “media, individuals, or entities outside the district regarding student or staff matters.”

Ben Pany, a teacher in the district, spoke about the policy at an Aug. 1 council meeting.

“The recently adopted communications plan violates teachers’ freedom of expression by prohibiting them from making public statements,” Pany said. “For the select few allowed to speak, the plan only allows communication that praises the Becker schools. This gag infringes on the public’s freedom to hear full accounts of what is happening in their schools.

Pany said the policy would prevent coaches and advisers from speaking to the local newspaper.

“That means coaches and advisers can’t talk to the local newspaper. Do we really want to limit the sharing of our students’ successes on the field and on stage? Or will this plan only be applied to limit the speech of certain people and groups only? If so, you prove that this is a plan set up to harass only certain people,” he said at the board meeting.

The union also suggested that the policy could prevent educators from fulfilling their obligations as mandatory flaggers, if child abuse or mistreatment is suspected.

Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, became involved in the dispute.

“This gag order, and policies like it, are unacceptable. Our union will stand up to them everywhere,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota.

The union also threatened to take legal action against Becker’s school district over another policy under consideration.

Policy 471, currently undergoing legal review by Becker’s district attorney, seeks to prohibit “political indoctrination” and “the teaching of inherently divisive concepts,” which the draft policy says includes concepts in which “the moral character of an individual is intrinsically determined by his race, sex or religion” or “an individual, by virtue of his race, sex or religion, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex or religion.

Superintendent de Becker recommended that the policy not be approved. The American Civil Liberties Union and an attorney for Education Minnesota both wrote letters to Becker’s district warning that the policy could violate First Amendment rights and undermine equity efforts.

Meg Luger-Nikolai, an attorney at Education Minnesota, said the union would explore “all legal options” if Policy 471 is not revised to bring it “in line with the simplest precepts of state and federal law.” .
The school district is about 50 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

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