FREE SPEECH -- A public middle school campus is not an unlimited
public forum for First Amendment purposes, and in particular, a parent has no free speech right to hand out flyers in a busy pupil pickup area after school, once reasonably informed by school authorities that his or her activity is disruptive. So ruled the California Court of Appeal a week ago in an unpublished opinion reported in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles. In doing so, the court
Mobergs son was enrolled at Westborough Middle School in South San Francisco. Shortly after Mobergs son was suspended for refusing to serve detention and to dress for physical education class in November of that year, Moberg entered the school campus without permission and began distributing flyers.
Westboroughs principal, Beth Orofino, claimed that she asked Moberg to leave the school grounds, but Moberg refused. She also testified that she was subsequently advised by the district superintendent to call the police if Moberg engaged in similar behavior again.
Less than two weeks later, Moberg entered the schools parking lot at the end of the school day when parents were arriving to pick up their children and began distributing flyers and soliciting signatures for a petition relating to his dissatisfaction with the districts use of resources for detention supervision rather than enrichment activities.
Both Orofino and South San Francisco Police Officer Kenneth Hancock, who responded to Orofinos call, claimed they observed Moberg disrupting traffic in the crowded parking lot, and the officer detained Moberg for approximately five minutes while he spoke to Orofino, who told him that Moberg did not have permission to hand out flyers on school property.
Hancock told Moberg to stop distributing the flyers or he would be arrested for violating Penal Code Sec. 626.7, which prohibits any person who is not required to be present on campus from remaining on a school campus after a school official has requested he leave if it reasonably appears that the person is committing any act likely to interfere with the peaceful conduct of school activities, or has entered the campus for the purpose of committing any such act.
Given the undisputed evidence that the parking lot was crowded with vehicles, parents and children, (Presiding Justice Ignazio J.) Ruvolo explained that Orofinio reasonably concluded Mobergs presence and activities in the parking lot were likely to cause a safety problem, which rendered Mobergs conduct unlawful under Sec. 626.7.
Ruvolo emphasized that the key word in the statement of legislative intent contained in Sec. 627(c) was that the statute was not intended to prohibit lawful activities in concluding that the First Amendment did not entitle Moberg to remain on the campus.
. . . Ruvolo stressed that the judgment would not prevent Moberg from exercising his right to contact other parents of students at the school to solicit support for his views, and rejected Mobergs claim that the judgment operated as a prior restraint of his speech.