Awareness Area: Education

UC student government can exclude students

OPEN MEETINGS UCLA student council will limit access to a meeting dealing with a divestment/boycott resolution against Israel—because it can PUBLIC INFORMATION Cal Poly SLO journalism prof sues his employer for access to records showing the campus’s infectious disease preparedness National media groups supporting a suit challenging serious delays in public access to civil case filings in Ventura Superior Court FREE SPEECH Court: Google has a publisher’s First Amendment right to arrange search results as it pleases, including rankings of competitors  

State Bar, CalTech Face Whistleblower Suits

WHISTLEBLOWERS Whistleblower suits claim retaliation for accusing colleagues of altering records at the State Bar, spying for Israel at CalTech FREE SPEECH Hearing set in suit against West Covina School District for barring first grader from handing out candy canes mentioning Jesus OPEN MEETINGS Little Hoover Commission reports recent roundtable discussion of needed flexibility in Brown Act, Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act

State’s high court lets secrecy rulings stand

OPEN GOVERNMENT State Supreme Court lets stand ruling that L. A. teachers’ names needn’t be disclosed in connection with performance ratings State Supreme Court lets stand ruling that S.F. Sunshine Ordinance can’t force release of city attorney’s open government opinions FREE SPEECH Report: Young men accused of crimes are having the gangsta rap lyrics they write and perform used as evidence of their guilt Comment: Why California’s ban on handgun images in outdoor signage violates the First Amendment protection for commercial speech

Second and Third Thoughts about the Free Speech Movement

At its 50th Anniversary, the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley has become a nostalgia brand easily invoked to mask how intolerant the student body, like those in so many other prestigious ivory towers, can be of speech it finds intolerable, says one of the FSM veterans. On the brighter side, the latest annual survey by the Knight Foundation shows, for the first time in its 10-year history, young people generally more supportive of the First Amendment than their teachers. Another survey by the First Amendment Center shows that Americans generally are increasingly supportive of students’ rights to speak and report as much as anyone else. A strong majority of Americans believe that high school students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights just as adults do. The percentage of those who support this statement increased over the past year from 75% to 78%, while the percentage of those who disagree with this statement decreased from 23% to 19%. In addition, A growing majority of Americans (68%) agree that public school students should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities, while only 27% disagreed. When the question was first asked in 2001, Americans were almost evenly split on the issue and those who strongly disagreed with the statement dominated the response. We see a large change from 2001 through 2007 and into 2014 . . . As some evidence of how the tide may be turning, a developing controversy in the Boulder, Colorado public schools shows student dissent erupting to challenge proposals for change in a college advance placement history curriculum, which the school board majority wants to “present positive aspects of the […]

CalAware Sues College Board under Brown Act

As noted by Jason Song in his report for the Los Angeles Times, Californians Aware filed suit Thursday against the board of the Pasadena Area Community College District, seeking a court-ordered reversal of a recent board-approved $400,000 severance award to its retiring superintendent, Dr. Mark Rocha. CalAware argues in its petition that the approval was hatched in two closed sessions labeled as dealing with “anticipated litigation” without explaining what litigation was anticipated, or why, or who the potential plaintiff was. The board’s attorney calls the $400,000 a “settlement and release of claims,” without revealing what the claims were. CalAware argues the closed sessions were about compensation beyond the amount Dr. Rocha was entitled to under his contract, and that the closed session agendas were misleadingly worded to avoid public awareness of the planned award.

Federal Student Privacy Law Could Get Better, or . . .

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a national nonprofit watchdog for keeping records of schools, colleges and universities open to student journalists and others, is sounding the alarm about pending draft amendments to federal law that could make such information more available to the public—or far less so. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has frequently been used by public educational institutions to foil public records requests about campus crime and other matters of legitimate general interest.  Anything—not just grades, counseling and disciplinary files—remotely involving an identifiable student—from preschool to post-doc—is typically withheld as the contents of a pupil or student record, whether or not the information has to do with education or is found in the student’s file.  Schools releasing information in violation of FERPA are threatened with the loss of federal funding. Here’s the SOS received today from Frank Lo Monte, SPLC’s executive director.  You can help by informing us of any use of FERPA you have been met with that kept otherwise public inofromation secret. Friends, the abuse of student privacy laws to conceal public records has become a more urgent concern as news organizations are roadblocked in their attempts at covering the issue of sexual assault on college campuses (see as one of many recent examples this piece in Oregon’s Register-Guard). Sens. Markey and Hatch have floated draft legislation responding to privacy advocates that would amend FERPA in an unhelpful way for transparency, and we are urging them to hold a hearing at which those concerned about open government can be heard in hopes of opening a discussion about wholesale FERPA reform. Some background about their draft bill and a link to the draft appears here: The Student […]

Headlines in Public Forum Law, October 11 2013

OPEN MEETINGS Judge agrees with LA Times, CalAware: Coliseum Commission repeatedly violated open meeting law PUBLIC RECORDS CalAware, Orange County online news center ask high court relief from county’s invited gag order OPEN GOVERNMENT California’s high court justices cool to State Bar’s claim that its records are closed to public Governor signs bill allowing online filing, display of officials’ statements of economic interests Report: White House, deaf to routine info requests, shows singular zeal to detect, deter leakers FREE PRESS Without a First Amendment, British press freedom depends on journalistic feistiness like this OPEN COURTS Bar panel: Free from video monitoring, judges’ courtroom misbehavior happens off the record FREE SPEECH Modesto Junior College sued for barring student vet from handing out copies of the Constitution Anaheim high school apologizes for barring student from wearing NRA T-shirt depicting hunter Court asked to reconsider: Do words that offer advice, counseling lose presumed freedom of speech?  

Another College Campus Free from Speech

Modesto Community College’s understanding of the First Amendment is very . . . modest How MJC aurhorities prevented a student from handing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day (this week) is reported here. This is an extreme case, given the symbolism, but as reported earlier here, Californa public institutions of higher learning are often simply tone deaf when it comes to students’ speech rights.

It’s Official: Faculty Can Speak out on UC Issues

It may come as something of a surprise to many that the professoriat at the university uniquely associated with the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s has never in the ensuing half century been recognized by the UC Regents as having the right to speak out on how their university is governed.  Until now, as explained by Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed.

District to Pay for Forcing Lawsuit for Records

A San Diego County Superior Court judge has ordered a school district to pay $42,500 to an attorney whose client, a parent of a district pupil, was forced to sue the district for access to public records. Michael Robertson was declared the prevailing party in a lawsuit he filed to force the Del Mar Union School District to allow him to see emails sent between former District Superintendent James Peabody and former School Board President Comischell Rodriguez. The lawsuit caused the district to produce more than 1,000 pages of records which the district previously claimed did not exist. “Every citizen has the right to examine their local governments, including school districts, to see how they operate,” Robertson said. “But some public agencies don’t seem to understand that. They use public money to pay attorneys to help them hide their activities from the people they are supposed to serve. That is exactly what this school district did. They spent public money on attorneys to hide how they are spending our money,” Robertson said. Robertson sought the communications because of his suspicions beginning in 2010 that a school employee union was exerting improper influence and unlawfully using district resources to motivate parents to protest funding cuts proposed by the legislature, according to one observer. The District claimed that it searched for but could not locate the records Robertson asked to see. “The reason why . . . is because the district didn’t carefully look for emails,” said Mike Harris, an information technology expert Robertson hired to examine the methods the district used in its search. “The district searched only part of its computer system,” Harris said. “It is the same thing as looking for a letter that […]