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Becker school district rescinds controversial communication policy

District board members voted unanimously to rescind the plan during a special meeting Tuesday.
Credit: KARE-11

BECKER, Minn. — Becker Public Schools has rescinded a controversial communications plan one week after teachers filed a lawsuit, arguing that the new policy violated their First Amendment rights.

District board members voted unanimously to rescind the plan during a special meeting Tuesday. Leaders of the Becker Education Association filed the lawsuit last week in Sherburne County, claiming the new policy, which they labeled as a "gag order," told teachers what they can say and can't say in public.

"We're disappointed that we've had to go through this adversarial process in working through that communication plan," said Board Chair Mark Swanson just prior to Tuesday's vote. "We're also disappointed, as we stated in the district's statement to the media, that the lawsuit misconstrues the purpose and the effect of the district plan, as well as the goals and objectives that were stated on May 2."

The district's full statement released last week reads:

We have been made aware of recent court filings in connection with a legal action challenging certain aspects of the School District’s new communication plan. We disagree with the claims and assertions being made in those filings, and believe the lawsuit misconstrues the purpose and effect of language in the School District’s plan. Because the judicial system is the more appropriate forum in which to address these issues, the School District will respond through the legal proceedings before the Court.

The communication plan, which was approved on May 2, detailed the district's overall mission, its goals and a guide for what colors and images to use when in the school district's logo. One line, however, that stated "employees may not make statements to the media, individuals or entities outside the district relating to student or personnel matters," drew criticism from the local teachers' union. In an interview last week, Denise Specht, President of Education Minnesota, said the wording was so vague that it could be interpreted as teachers not being able to say anything about the school district to anyone who doesn't work in the district. Therefore, Education Minnesota helped the local teachers' union write up the lawsuit.

"We believe that parents and community deserve to know what's going on in their schools,” Specht said. “It also prevents them from following a lot of state statutes and policies. Educators are mandatory reporters, so if they see or have concerns about child abuse or maltreatment, this gag order is so broad it would prevent educators from making any of those reports."

The lawsuit argues that the new policy is connected to a school board meeting in March that ignited a debate over LGBT students and their rights, which included a protest with more than a hundred people. 

"It feels definitely that there is a tie to that event,” Specht said in an interview last week. "I think it is not ironic. I think this is meant to control, and to make sure the only narrative the community hears is the narrative from the board and superintendent."

A remote hearing for the lawsuit is still scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday. 

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