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Nation’s 5th Largest School District Considers Imposing Free Speech Restrictions

Employees of the Clark County School District, in Southern Nevada have been sounding the alarm this Thanksgiving weekend regarding a troubling policy District officials are considering enacting. Specifically, it is R-4392, titled “Employee Freedom of Speech” (found at http://ccsd.net/district/policies-regulations/notices/r-4392-employee-freedom-o.pdf).

This proposed policy redefines speech as coming from an employee versus speech coming from a private citizen and seeks to create a balance between the two. However, digging deeper into this policy is perplexing.

From the introduction:

“The Clark County School District supports all employees’ right to freedom of speech but must balance the interests of an employee, as a private citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the District, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees. The District is intent on providing a respectful learning and working environment. Therefore, the District must ensure that the exercise of free speech by employees does not interfere with the District’s educational mission and operation or the rights of others.

However, here’s where the policy appears to go off the rails:

“However, when employees engage in speech as District employees, they are not speaking as private citizens, and the speech is not protected by the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

1. Any speech made during work, while performing work for the District, or while engaged in any work-related activity is not made as a private citizen.
2. If employees identify themselves as a District employee while engaging in the speech, the employees are not speaking as a private citizen.
3. Personal social network and social media accounts must be kept separate from work-related accounts and identities to preserve the status of a private citizen. This separation may be relevant in determining whether the employee is speaking as a private citizen.”

The District is taking public comment on this policy through December 10 at this website:

(http://ccsd.net/district/policies-regulations/notice).

It has been reported that the ACLU is preparing to get involved, that’s how serious this is. In a nutshell, CCSD employees regularly report to this author that the district operates in a culture of fear and that employees are already afraid to step up and come forward with issues. It is one reason why they seek the refuge of social media, where employees air their concerns while protecting anonymity at all cost.

Undoubtedly, there are questions, as it is a very unusual item to put on ANY school board agenda. Who proposed this policy? And why? Isn’t something like this supposed to be discussed among Board members in an open session first?  Said one anonymous CCSD employee, “It’s almost as they’re saying, policy or not, you will be punished for speaking up, especially if you embarrass us.”

Attorneys have already weighed in. Check out this Twitter thread from UNLV’s Michael Kagan:

And from 1st Amendment lawyer Ari Cohn:

In an interview with CCSD Trustee, Danielle Ford, Ford asked senior staff about this unexpected agenda item. At the time of publication, she has yet to receive an answer. It should also be noted that the Board president approves all agenda items. In this case, the recently-reelected Lola Brooks. So this prompts additional questions: At whose recommendation was this item placed on the agenda? Was there more than one author? Who submitted this? Who initially suggested the policies enactment? It should also be noted that Brooks is terming off as Board president, despite her reelection.

As suspected, the Twitterverse has been brutal on this:

Clearly, the lines are being drawn for a battle over the free speech of employees versus the rights of an employer. One thing for sure, we haven’t heard the end of this story yet. The board is set to discuss this policy further at its December 12th meeting. It promises to be interesting.

*Editor’s Note: Clark County School Watch (CCSW) is an independent blog published by Erik “E.C.” Huey, the author of this article. It is the most widely read blog of its kind focused strictly on educational issues in the Clark County, Nevada area. A native of Chicago, Huey is a former reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a former social media/digital marketing editor for KTNV-TV, and also a former reporter for various airline business trade publications in Washington, DC. Most recently, Huey was a former career high school English and creative writing teacher with the Clark County School District, who retired from the classroom after nearly 10 years.

You can help continue to fund independent journalists like Erik by contributing to his work. Visit his donor page at clarkcountyschoolwatch.wordpress.com/donate.



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