Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
– The First Amendment
Apparently, the Bill of Rights is not something that LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist or his staff was taught in law school. After I wrote an email to Board Member Ref Rodriguez in December 2015, Holmquist responded that there was “no legal support” for the assertion that Rodriguez’ use of the block feature on a Twitter account linked to his LAUSD sponsored web page was a “government supported abridgment of free speech.” Instead, he maintained that “under the law, communication, even communication with a government entity, is not unfettered.” He did, however, state that he was “open to reviewing” any “legal authority (e.g., statutes [sic], regulations, case law, etc.) supporting” my position. The message was clear – if you want to avail yourself of your rights in the LAUSD, you had better be prepared to pay for legal counsel.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the District’s legal team has been used to block parental engagement. My entry into activism for public education was born from my having to hire a lawyer to make sure that my two daughters on the autism spectrum received the services their teachers agreed they needed. Other parents are still engaged in a legal fight to preserve the choice of special education centers. In another case, a victim of sexual abuse was re-victimized by the District’s legal representatives. As of June 5, Holmquist’s team is still refusing to release documents from 2013 that are related to David Binkle’s allegations that, as his supervisor, Michelle King was aware of his actions at the Food Services Division. Binkle was recently indicted for his part in the scandal but King was promoted to Superintendent.
In a case decided last month, a federal court “determined that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does indeed prohibit officeholders from blocking social media users on the basis of their views.” This ruling recognized social media as a “vital, developing forum” and stated that “suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards.” When Phyllis J. Randall blocked a citizen from a social media page tied to her position as a government official she “committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.” So much for Holmquist’s assertion that “under the law, communication, even communication with a government entity, is not unfettered.”
It is important to note that the ban that led to this court case only “lasted a matter of hours”. Rodriguez had his ban in place for almost two years, ending it only after this case was decided. Unfortunately, not all LAUSD Board Members have taken the same action. For example, Monica Garcia includes the @Monica4LAUSD Twitter handle on her official LAUSD website but not all parents within the District have access to her Tweets. This once again shows that Garcia’s concerns lie with the charter supporters who fund her campaigns rather than her constituents – after all, she was forced to spend $623,509.82 in the last election against a parent and a teacher who spent a combined $15,756.30 and she was still held to less than 56% of the vote. The donors that funded this campaign did not give this money out of the goodness of their hearts, they were purchasing access. They do not need to reach her through Twitter, that is for the commoners.
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. He was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com.