Minnesota’s Rochester Public Schools Board voted unanimously to designate Black Lives Matter messages as privileged “official government speech” to allegedly provide them legal cover.
The resolution allowing certain slogans to be deemed “uniquely privileged” may be seen as protecting the state’s public school system from liability as it allows certain speech, while simultaneously not allowing other First Amendment-protected speech with dissenting opinions, according to KAAL-TV.
“[By] adopting the messages that you’re adopting as government speech, you’re saying these are the messages that we’re communicating as a school district, and by doing that, we’re not also creating a forum to allow other types of speech to enter the forum,” John Edison, the school board’s attorney, stated in a virtual meeting.
RPS Superintendent Michael Muñoz was also directed to take all necessary actions “that further the objectives” of the board’s resolution. Those include furthering the “messaging, signage, and visuals” for the Black Lives Matter slogans.
The board went even further to designate “Brown Lives Matter,” “Indigenous Lives Matter,” “Stop Asian Hate,” “All Are Welcome Here,” and the LGBTQ pride flag as protected “government speech” preventing any dissent against their phrases as well. The six-color “pride flag” was ostensibly included to support “a message of inclusion” within schools.
(Video Credit: ABC 6 News – KAAL TV)
In what many allege is an unconstitutional circumvention of First Amendment rights, Edison declared that under government speech, “it is the government itself that is speaking … it can control what that message is. So, you don’t have the same issue [of] people coming forward and saying that by expressing a certain message you have to allow others to be expressed, too. That concept does not apply when you’re talking about government speech.”
RPS Board Chair Jean Marvin disingenuously offered an explanation as to what the resolution is “not.”
“It is not about telling students what to think and what they can and cannot say, but it does give our district and our staff the authority to speak out about these lives that matter — to fly the pride flag, to use a Black Lives Matter sign in their classroom,” Marvin proclaimed. “The message to them is this district stands behind you. This is our message to the community..”
The day before the board meeting, Muñoz ordered staff to ignore “misinformation circulating on social media” that the school had ordered the removal of “BLM messaging” in classrooms.
The claim surfaced after a leadership meeting on “speech, First Amendment rights, and how we can support our students and staff,” noted Muñoz.
Someone inquired about “BLM material,” but the proffered answer did not include “a directive to remove posters/flags or disallow wearing BLM apparel,” Muñoz declared.
Rochester Public Schools responds to claims that teachers were told to remove Black Lives Matter messages in classrooms. The school board chair believes someone misinterpreted a discussion during a leadership meeting. pic.twitter.com/o1vMTdPYXH
— KaMaria B. (@KamOnCam_) April 26, 2021
Also discussed at the board meeting was the renewal of a contract with the Rochester Police Department that provides for five officers to work in schools as community resource officers. It passed by a narrow margin but some school board members contend that it is only temporary until they can find another solution to having police officers involved with the school district.
“They may not keep us safer because they keep the shooter away, but because they know our students and they are able to de-escalate bad situations before they become situations that other law enforcement needs to get involved in,” Marvin commented.
This move follows a recent list of demands that were released by Black Lives Matter calling for the defunding of the police following the deaths of several black individuals during altercations with law enforcement across the nation.
“The police that met our BLM protestors this summer with assault rifles, teargas, and military-grade protective gear were the same police that, on Wednesday, met white supremacists with patience and the benefit of the doubt, going so far as to pose for selfies with rioters,” the group’s fifth demand stated. “The contrast was jarring, but not for Black people. We have always known who the police truly protect and serve. D.C. has the most police per capita in the country; more funding is not the solution.”
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