On April 3, 2014, the Timberlane Regional School Board (which addresses education in Atkinson, Danville, Plaistow, and Sandown) repealed and replaced unconstitutional internal rules stating that Board members (i) cannot comment to the press and instead must direct press inquiries to the Board Chair, and (ii) must “support” all decisions made by the Board and, thus, are prohibited from engaging in “[e]fforts to undermine a decision” by the Board. The School Board repealed and replaced these rules in response to a March 28, 2014 letter from the NHCLU stating that these rules infringed upon the First Amendment rights of the Board’s members, particularly those who have minority perspectives. You can read about these rules and our response here.
The replacement rules passed by the School Board on April 3, 2014 provide full protection for Board members who wish to publicly speak about Board policy. For example, they make clear that “a Board member is under no obligation to publicly support a Board decision and is not restricted from publicly criticizing or expressing opposition to a Board decision” and that a Board member is not prohibited “from expressing his or her opinion [to the press] concerning School Board policies and decisions as an individual member of the Board.” An article on these new rules can be found here.
We commend the Board for making the right decision and not only repealing the old version of these rules, but replacing them with language that protects Board members’ First Amendment rights. We are thankful for Board leadership’s willingness to immediately revisit these rules when our constitutional concerns were raised. Our hope is that, in the future, other school boards, as well as the NH School Boards Association, carefully consider language that confirms the right of individual Board members to freely speak out on important matters of public concern.