Why would a School Board not want to answer a constituent’s questions or concerns regarding their child’s education? Moreover, why would the Chairperson not respond to a right-to-know request pursuant to RSA 91-A that was submitted multiple times over the past year regarding public information?
RSA 91-A provides 5 days to respond to all right-to-know requests.
The public’s right to know what its government is doing is a fundamental part of New Hampshire’s Constitution, which was adopted on June 2, 1784.
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Accountability of public servants to the people was established in Part 1, article 8, which reads:
“All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them.”
In 1976, the people of New Hampshire amended Part 1, article 8 to reinforce the existence of a right of access to public meetings and records, by adding the following two sentences:
“Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable, and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.”
I am raising these concerns due to the willful disregard of the Gilford School Board to answer specific questions for over a year regarding a controversial policy against the will of parents: Policy JBAB. Policy JBAB violates student’s Constitutional Rights to free speech.
Part 1, article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press:
“Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.”
Having the honor to serve as a School Board member myself in my own community, I recognize the importance of the public’s right to access all public documents. I also recognize the importance of adopting properly crafted policies that define and govern the educational environments for protecting and educating all students.
The Gilford School Board continues to act as if they are above the law – by refusing to respond to right-to-know requests pertaining to violations of student and parental rights. Refusal to answer simple questions asked either verbally and or by email violates the intent of the law and flies in the face of government being accountable to the people.
Student Rights are being violated by the Gilford School District.
As is such with the policy JBAB. The Gilford School board refuses to acknowledge that all students have a constitutional right to bodily privacy.
Even the liberal Ninth Circuit has recognized,
“[s]hielding one’s unclothed figure from the view of strangers, particularly strangers of the opposite sex, is impelled by elementary self-respect and personal dignity.” Michenfelder v. Sumner, 860 F.2d 328, 333 (9th Cir. 1988).
That ruling is clear. Students may not be forced to use communal showers, lockers, and restrooms at their school (and lodging on overnight trips) that do not afford sufficient privacy. Students and parents have the right to request the school reasonably accommodate the student’s privacy needs. This could be easily addressed by providing the availability of single-stall restrooms and changing areas.
Policy JBAB also violates a student’s right to free speech.
Students should never be compelled to express or support ideas or beliefs with which they (or their parents) disagree. Students do not
“shed their constitutional Rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).
Parental Rights are also being violated by the Gilford School District.
Discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation that are covered in Policy JBAB are issues that many parents desire to introduce to their children in their own time and in a manner consistent with their values and beliefs. But the policy mandates that school district personnel deceive parents (and guardians) – even though the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that parents possess a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
However, parents are intentionally bypassed by the Gilford School District regarding these sensitive gender identity and sexual orientation education and issues.
The arrogance of the Gilford School District represents all that is wrong with public education today. Schools should respect, notify, and provide an opt-out for parents when sensitive topics will be presented by school personnel or guest speakers. See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000).
Gilford School District officials are trampling students’ rights under the guise of attempting to avoid offending other students. But that is not a permissible basis for compelling speech. A school
“must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.” Tinker, 393 U.S. at 509. Students “may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved.” Id. at 511.
Parents and students alone have the right to determine what values are central to their lives. In the same manner, schools cannot command students to use words, pronouns, or engage in other expressions that conflict with their values and beliefs. To do so tramples students’ well-established rights and opens up schools (and individual School Board Members) to potential liability for infringing those rights.
I encourage members of the Gilford School District and the Gilford School Board to carefully study what their responsibilities are under the right-to-know law.
I would further encourage Gilford’s parents to file personal lawsuits with everyone who has refused to uphold the law and provide the requested information.
Former Windham Vice-Chair, School Board
Co-founder, Government Integrity Project