Board of Education Censored Comments Critical of Its Personnel & Curriculum Changes

CHICAGO – Today community members who were physically prevented from making comments critical of Hinsdale High School District 86’s Board of Education’s sweeping curriculum changes in a public meeting filed a federal 1st Amendment and Illinois Open Meetings Act lawsuit against the Board and its President, Nancy Pollak.

Under a vague policy allegedly promoting “civility” and preventing any public commentary about particular personnel, the board abruptly cut off critical commentary by community members at the December 12, 2019 Board meeting.  The speakers objected to proposed sweeping curriculum changes in the sciences which would wipe out many current class offerings geared to students’ different interests and ability levels, and instead impose a rigid, one-size-fits-all course requirement for every student.

As the plaintiffs Dr. Meeta Jain Patel, Kara Kuo and Kim Notaro documented, in practice, the Board’s reliance on the “respect and civility clause” of its policy is an anti-1st Amendment, content-based prohibition on free speech. They documented numerous prior instances where speakers laudatory of the Board and its policies were allowed to comment unscathed.  However, when plaintiffs Dr. Patel, Ms. Kuo, and Ms. Notaro attempted to read an email that the Board had received several days prior to the public meeting, the Board shut down the speakers all three times. The email in question was an astute analysis of public comments that Assistant Superintendent for Academics Dr. Carol Baker made at her home district’s public meeting.  Dr. Baker opposed her home district’s plans to cut course offerings contrary to her proposed plan in District 86.

“Publicly elected boards of education are tasked with representing the interests of the community,” said Dr. Patel. “To effectively do so they need to welcome comments, both complimentary and critical. That is the bedrock of democratic, public school board governance. Ms. Kuo, Ms. Notaro, and I are not afraid to speak out when we see policies and actions that threaten the integrity of school board governance.  It is for this reason that we have filed this lawsuit against the D86 Board of Education and it’s President Nancy Pollak.”

“Our nation was founded on the ideal that the public has a right to address its concerns to its government officials, and the Board of Hinsdale Township High School District 86 has no Constitutional basis to tell its constituents that they can’t raise their criticisms and concerns at a public meeting,” said Matt Topic of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and part of his firm’s 1st Amendment and Transparency Practice.

Patel, Kuo and Notaro are also represented by Joshua Burday and Merrick Wayne, also of Loevy & Loevy. In 2016 a suit brought by the Practice forced the Chicago City Council to begin allowing public commentary at its meetings.

A copy of the suit, Dr. Meeta Jain Patel, Kara Kuo and Kim Notaro v. Board of Education Hinsdale Township High School District 86 and Nancy Pollack, No. 1:20-cv-00893, can be found here.

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