Willful Disturbance

***READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED***

Posts about real school tragedy, crime and/or events can be upsetting.

Have you ever been to a school board meeting? How about a city council type meeting? Maybe you’ve wanted to listen to a discussion or speak to the council on a topic of interest.

They’re intimidating. There are rules. If you want to speak, you may be limited to a specific amount of time. You may be limited to specific topics. You may be unable to speak at all because your topic wasn’t on the agenda.

In researching this case, I learned something I didn’t know after serving six years on a school board.

BLOG POST 147: This week, I’m sharing research on a specific criminal case involving a middle school English teacher—you may recall seeing this recently on network news.

Teachers Feel Undervalued

It had been close to ten years since the teachers in the school district had received a salary increase. The superintendent was set to receive a pay raise of more than $30,000 to his annual salary. The increase didn’t sit well with teachers.

One brave middle school teacher waited her turn to address the school board during the public comments time frame. She respectfully asked why the superintendent was receiving a raise when the teachers had gone so long without one.

When the teacher referred to the increase as a “slap in the face” to teachers the school board president banged his gavel and told her to leave. What happened to freedom of speech?

Extreme Measures

She picked up her belongings and made her way out the room in disbelief she’d been ejected from the meeting. As she entered the hallway, a security officer took her to the floor and handcuffed her. She was arrested and taken to the jail.

Meanwhile, the school board went on to approve the salary increase.

The teacher was released—no charges were filed. And she didn’t receive any disciplinary action from the school district.

The World Is Watching

Since then, the school board and superintendent have received death threats. One school board member went on record to say women speaking to the school board are treated differently than men—some women have been asked to leave whereas men haven’t. And after serving six terms (24 years), the school board president resigned mid-term.

Willful Disturbance

So here’s what I learned: Although this case was not in California (Ed Code referenced), I found most states in the U.S., if not all, have a law on the books about a willful disturbance at public meetings. Since “willful disturbance” is not defined, the determination of said disturbance is discretionary and made by the person in charge, i.e., the school board president.

California Education Code 32210: Any person who willfully disturbs any public school or any public school meeting is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500).

There have been other cases where people felt they’d been mistreated by school boards or city councils and filed lawsuits only to have their case denied based on this law.

It’s too soon to know if the middle school teacher, in this case, will file a lawsuit against the school board. I’ll do an update if and when there’s more information.

What do you think about this case? Join the conversation on the website. We talk about the sensitive subject of crimes occurring at or connected to schools. Your relevant comments are always welcome on the Research Blog.

Do you know of a school crime you’d like to share? Email me so we can discuss the details.

Thanks for reading!

-Robin

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