The ACLU of Massachusetts today announced that a settlement has been reached with the Natick School Committee, addressing free speech issues central to a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of two mothers of former Natick Public School students.
The School Committee last night adopted a new policy governing the Public Speak portion of its meetings. The School Committee also voted to settle the lawsuit, which was filed last year by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the firm Todd & Weld on behalf of Corey Spaulding and Karin Sutter. Ms. Spaulding and Ms. Sutter brought the lawsuit after the School Committee shut down their respective attempts to express their concerns about the Natick Public Schools during the School Committee’s “Public Speak” period last year.
Under the new Public Speak policy, the Committee Chair will not be allowed to interrupt speakers except when they exceed their time, engage in speech not protected by the Constitution, or seek to talk about issues outside the School Committee’s jurisdiction.
“We are pleased that this matter is being resolved in a way that teaches our children the values of free speech,” said Ms. Spaulding.
“Although it is a shame that litigation was needed in order to get to this point, I hope that this new policy will be a model for other school committees around the state,” said Ms. Sutter.
“Free speech is the foundation of democracy, and key to our other fundamental rights,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The new policy protects the rights of the public to speak truth to their elected officials and to hold them accountable.”
"Hopefully, the adoption of the new policy will remind communities throughout the Commonwealth that our constitution does not permit the government, including local governments, to silence criticism simply because it may be unpleasant,” said Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld LLP.
In November, the Middlesex Superior Court ruled that the former policy violated constitutional free speech protections and that it had been applied to illegally suppress the rights of Ms. Spaulding and Ms. Sutter to express views critical of the Natick Schools.
Under the settlement agreement, the Natick Schools will also host a public education session, in which the ACLU of Massachusetts has agreed to participate to discuss the values of free speech and the lessons to be learned from the lawsuit. An email to be sent to the Natick School Community will announce the forum, and apologize to Ms. Spaulding, Ms. Sutter and anyone else who was harmed by the application of the former policy.