Walker County superintendent responds to court ruling
The lawsuit was filed after a Walker County middle school teacher felt his First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated.
UPDATE, October 12, 9:30 p.m.
A statement from Walker County Supt. Damon Raines:
The Superintendent’s Office was contacted concerning a ruling by the federal court of appeals in a lawsuit filed against the Walker County School System (“System”) by Dr. Jim Barrett, a teacher at Saddle Ridge Middle School. Several items related to this decision as reported by various media sources are incorrect.
- The System’s defense is being handled by the insurance carrier and not with System funds.
- Dr. Barrett’s right to speak at the February 2015 Walker County School Board meeting was not violated. That meeting was cancelled due to inclement weather and never occurred. The next Board meeting was held on March 10, 2015. Dr. Barrett was placed on the agenda for that meeting to address the Board but, without any notice to the Board or Superintendent, Dr. Barrett did not appear at that meeting.
- Prior to Dr. Barrett’s suit, the Board’s public comment policy had been in effect for approximately 30 years. Point in fact, before the injunction was issued, a citizen complied with the Board’s public comment policy without difficulty and addressed the Board in a public meeting on the grading issue Dr. Barrett stated he wanted to speak about.
- The only issue decided by the federal court of appeals was whether the law required the Board’s public comment policy to contain a time limit within which the Superintendent is to schedule and conduct a meeting with a person wanting to address the Board. The federal court of appeals did not rule that any other provisions of the Board’s policy were unlawful. In fact, Dr. Barrett abandoned all of his other complaints about any other provision of the Board’s policy.
This case is still ongoing, and the Board may address the public comment policy once this litigation has concluded. The Board is taking all steps it believes are in the best interest of the School System, the children of Walker County, and the citizens of Walker County regarding this issue.
PREVIOUS STORY FROM OCTOBER 11:
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by the Georgia Association of Educators against the Walker County school system.
The statewide teachers union filed the lawsuit in 2015 on behalf of Jim Barrett, a social studies teacher at Saddle Ridge Middle School.
The lawsuit was filed after Barrett felt his First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated.
Barrett had some concerns about a new grading policy that he wanted to address with the school board.
The lawsuit says Superintendent Damon Raines told Barrett that he could not speak to the school board regarding his concerns.
The court found that the school board's policy for public participation was unconstitutional.
"The district court found that the policy was unconstitutional for a lot of different reasons," attorney Gerry Weber told Channel 3. "It gave the superintendent too much discretion to pick and choose, to decide who he wanted to speak and who he didn't want to speak."
The school system now has a chance to appeal the ruling.
Here is a copy of the lawsuit against Walker County schools:
Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.