EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

April 4, 2014

Timberlane amends school board rules

Civil liberties group threatens lawsuit action

PLAISTOW — Facing a potential lawsuit from the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, the Timberlane Regional School Board voted, 5-1, last night to amend two of its recently adopted rules. Both rules violated members’ rights to free speech, according to the NHCLU.

The board also voted, 5-1, to suspend a third rule — involving responses to email — pending a review by the board’s legal counsel.

Rules 7 and 8 were among eight rules approved by the board March 20, but they violated the free-speech rights of board members, according to NHCLU attorney Gilles Bissonette.

Rule 8 prohibited anyone but School Board Chairman Nancy Steenson from speaking to the press. Rule 7 required all members to back board decisions, regardless of how they voted.

As amended, Rule 8 allows board members to comment to the press as individuals. But the newly amended rule still encourages individual board members to ask the press to contact the chairman, who would comment on the entire board’s behalf.

The new version of Rule 7 says 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.”

The amended rules were approved following a half-hour debate. During the discussion, School Board member Peter Bealo called the amended versions “wishy washy” and “ambiguous,” saying they should be eliminated because they are meaningless.

“I think, in this case, it just doesn’t say much at the end of the day and we should get rid of it,” Bealo said.

His motion failed to receive support. Steenson, Katie Delfino, Sue Sherman, Kelly Ward and Donna Green voted to approve the amended rules. Rick Blair, Rob Collins and Michael Mascola were not present.

The issue arose last week when the NHCLU notified the school district that the two rules violated the U.S. and New Hampshire Constitutions.

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