OPINION: Someone Needs to Sue the Santa Rosa School Board for Censoring Speech

Posted on November 16, 2023 by EDITORIAL BOARD

While the Santa Rosa County District School Board could sensibly prohibit personal attacks not related to the board’s business, they could be, and should be, sued for stopping constituents for voicing opinions against district officials.

The mother of a Santa Rosa School student, during Tuesday’s school board meeting, was expressing frustration against Terry Harmon, the school board’s attorney. She was called down multiple times for making “personal attacks.”

“That was a personal attack against our attorney,” stated Board Chairwoman Linda Sanborn. “If you continue with that, you will be asked to leave…we will not have personal attacks on anyone.”

Perhaps Harmon and the board members should familiarize themselves with related case law.

One example is Marshall, et al. v. Amuso, et. al., which resulted in a $300,000 award after four residents filed a lawsuit against the Pennsbury School District, its school board members and others for actions including, but not limited to, the presiding officer interrupting public comment.

If a parent or taxpayer wants to come to the podium and criticize a school board member’s behavior, clothing or appearance, they can do so. If they want to call them names, they can do so. They could also drop the F bomb, although that would be a lack of decorum.

If school board officials do not have skin which is thick enough to tolerate criticism from the constituents they are paid to serve, then they are in the wrong position. 

It’s my sincerest hope that the school board will not only stop wrongfully censoring its constituents but also return public forum closer to the beginning of meetings so those who take the time to come speak out do not have to wait hours to do so.

In closing, I still hold the deepest respect and admiration for Mrs. Sanborn, who is the finest example of a public servant I’ve seen in more than two decades of involvement with Santa Rosa County politics.