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Timberlane board, NHCLU working on rules agreement

Union Leader Correspondent

April 02. 2014 10:29PM

PLAISTOW — The Timberlane School Board and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union appear to have reached an agreement over language contained in the recently adopted School Board rules.

Last week, the NHCLU said it was considering possible legal action against the School Board for what it considered “unconstitutional” new restrictions on how board members can speak and act.

However, superintendent Earl Metzler said attorneys from the School Board and the NHCLU have been working together to craft acceptable language for the School Board rules.

Metzler said that new language, which closely mirrors the recommendations made by the NHCLU, will be presented to the board later this week. The board voted 7-2 on March 20 to adopt the rules governing the behavior of the board. Rule 7 states that “all decisions made by the board will be supported by all board members regardless of how a member voted.”

Rule 8 stated that all communications to the press will be provided by the board chair and that all board members contacted by the press will not comment and direct the press to contact the chair.

NHCLU staff attorney Gilles Bissonnette said that rule is a violation of a members’ constitutional right to engage in political speech to the press and is the equivalent of a gag order for the members of the board who are not the chair.

However, Metzler said the School Board rules were never intended to limit the individual members’ rights to express their opinions.

“I believe they are guidelines for how we do business,” Metzler said. He said board members are free to speak to the press as individuals, just not to represent the board as a whole.

Metzler said the district attorney has been working with the NHCLU to clarify that language and that it was up to the School Board to decide if it wants to adopt the change in the language.

Bissonnette confirmed that the NHCLU has been working with School Board counsel concerning “proposed alternative language.”

Board members Donna Green and Peter Bealo cast the two votes against the proposed School Board rules at the March meeting.

“I understand the ... desire for solidarity and a single voice, but when we became elected, we didn’t give up our right to free speech,” Green said at the March 20 meeting. “We all have equal authority, and I think we should all be free to express our feelings on certain topics.”

School Board Chair Nancy Steenson responded that “there is always room for dissent in this room” and noted that board meetings are televised, so the public can see where members stand on any given issue.

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