, Salem, MA


April 1, 2014

NHACLU challenges Timberlane gag order

PLAISTOW, N.H. — The Timberlane School Board has been asked to repeal two of its recently adopted rules — or face a potential legal battle.

Two of the eight rules violate free speech rights, according to the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

One, Rule 8, prohibits anyone but School Board Chairman Nancy Steenson from speaking to members of the press. The other, Rule 7, declares all board members will support all board decisions, regardless of how they voted.

Both are violations of the First Amendment, according to NHCLU attorney Gilles Bissonnette.

In a three-page letter Friday to the School Board’s attorney, Steenson and Superintendent Earl Metzler, Gilles gave the board until Thursday to repeal the rules or face the consequences.

“We do not believe it is a productive use of anyone’s time or taxpayers’ money for the District to defend such patently unconstitutional rules,” Gilles wrote. “There is no compelling governmental interest that could possibly justify such a substantial intrusion on First Amendment rights.”

Gilles said yesterday he had been contacted by Diane Gorrow, the school district’s attorney, but had not yet discussed the matter with her.

Gorrow did not return a phone message yesterday.

Steenson did not return three phone message requesting comment yesterday. Metzler also did not return three calls. When finally contacted, Metzler said he was too busy to speak.

The board voted March 20 to adopt the rules, by a 7-2 vote. Donna Green of Sandown and Peter Bealo of Plaistow were the only board members to vote in opposition. Both spoke at the meeting about their right to free speech.

Last week, Steenson said the board has always operated under the understanding that only the chairman is allowed to speak to reporters.

The vote two weeks ago just formalized that decision, she said, providing “a unified voice as a board.”

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