Friday, November 9, 2007

GISD moves ahead with threat to sue parent

The following editorial appeared in the Galveston County The Daily News. The below article is not that uncommon we received a threat of a lawsuit back in Illinois as well as many of our education reform friends. We also had many friends whose children were harassed by teachers if they spoke against the status quo. Educrats will go to any length to protect their gravy train even it is to suppress the freedom of speech of others.

GISD moves ahead with threat to sue parent

By Rhiannon Meyers
The Daily News
Published October 31, 2007

GALVESTON — The public school district has officially demanded that parent Sandra Tetley remove what it says is libelous material from her Web site or face a lawsuit for defamation.

Tetley received a letter Monday from the district’s law firm demanding she remove what it termed libelous statements and other “legally offensive” statements posted by her or anonymous users, and refrain from allowing such postings in the future. If she refuses, the district plans to sue her, the demand letter states.

Tetley said she’ll review the postings cited by David Feldman of the district’s firm Feldman and Rogers. She’ll consider the context of the postings and consult attorneys before deciding what to delete.

“If it’s not worth keeping in there, I’ll take it out,” she said. “If in fact it is libelous, I have no problem taking it down.”

Libel Or Opinion?

Feldman said Tetley’s Web site — — contained the most “personal, libelous invective directed toward a school administrator” he’s seen in his 31-year career.

“It is not the desire of the School District, the Board, or this Firm to stifle free expression or inhibit robust debate regarding matters pertaining to the operation of the public schools,” Feldman wrote in the demand letter. “This is solely about the publication of materials that clearly go beyond that which is legally and constitutionally encouraged and permitted, and into the realm of what is legally offensive and actionable.”

Feldman cited 16 examples of what he says are libelous postings. Half were posted by Tetley; the other half were posted by anonymous users.

The postings accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for “personal gain,” violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.

Tetley said the postings were opinions only.

“Everyone deserves to have their opinion,” she said. “I don’t think they have a right to make me, or anyone else, take down criticisms of them off the Web site. They’re not going to force us to take off our opinions because we have no other place to go.”

Tetley said she had not removed any of the postings as of late Tuesday.

Rare Move

One legal expert said the district’s move to sue Tetley is rare and unlawful. Under the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, government entities cannot sue for libel — any court would toss out the “threatening” suit as being inconsistent with U.S. law, said Sandra Baron, executive director of New-York based Media Law Resource Center. She called the district’s potential lawsuit an intimidation tactic and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Feldman said the district is only asking Tetley to remove a small percentage of postings on her site that he says accuse trustees and administrators of breaking the law. They’re not trying to shut down the blog or eliminate postings, he said.

“How can that be threatening or initmidating?” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of dialogue, if you will, on that Web log that we’re not touching with a pole ... What we leave is this huge field of free expression and discourse. There’s debate and then there’s libel. Debate all you want, criticize all you want, but don’t accuse people of committing crimes when you have absolutely no evidence to support that.”

More than 130 registered users post on Tetley’s site. Since trustees threatened legal action, more people have been visiting the site and posting, Tetley said. She said she planned to post Feldman’s letter on the site.

“People are very tired of what this type of government is doing,” Tetley said. “They are using our money to silence us.”

The law firm monitored the site for months before trustees took action. Board President David O’Neal said the postings deter potential employees from working at the district.

Tetley and her group, Galveston Alliance for Neighborhood schools, has long criticized the district for reconfiguring its middle schools, closing elementary schools, meeting in executive sessions some claimed were illegal, refusing to divulge the contents of a letter from a civil rights consultant and for issuing a budget forecast that was off by $10 million.

The district’s controversial reconfiguration, to go into effect in 2008-09, prompted Tetley to start the site.

It’s often difficult to prove a public official has been libeled. Aside from proving the libelous statements are damaging, public officials must also prove actual malice. Actual malice means knowing a statement is false or having reckless disregard for the truth.

No comments: