Irvine School Board's Public Comment Policy Violates Free Speech, Says ACLU

The Irvine Unified School Board is accused of silencing any criticism of district staff. Now, the ACLU is crying foul and warning IUSD that it is violating the constitutional right to free speech.

At issue are two clauses of the 9323 Rules of Conduct. One says “no person shall orally initiate charges or complaints against individual employees of the District at a public meeting of the Board” and that “all such charges or complaints shall be presented to the Superintendent and/or the Board in writing, signed by the complainant.” The other clause states that “remarks by any person addressing the Board which reflect adversely upon the racial, religious, economic, or political views, character or motives of any person on the staff, and Board, or at the meeting are out of order.”

Resident Debra Kamm says the city blocked her email address after she submitted a complaint about district staff allegedly discriminating against students with disabilities. When Kamm showed up at an April 19 board meeting and questioned the performance of the special education director, she was told board policies prohibit her from “initiating or making any allegations against individual employees,” citing the 9323 Rules of Conduct.

“It is a bedrock principle of free speech that ‘a speaker may not be stopped from speaking because the moderator disagrees with the viewpoint he is expressing,’” wrote Southern California ACLU Attorney Peter Eliasberg in a letter to the district. 

A spokesperson for the district said people aren’t allowed to speak about employee performance at board meetings because employee performance is outside the board’s purview.

“We have provided, within the same policy, information on how to properly address complaints about individual employees,” the spokesperson told Voice of OC. “As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, we want to hear and address complaints.”