South Hadley School Committees respect for freedom of speech in question

The American Civil Liberties Union has cautioned the South Hadley School Committee as they silenced a parent who wished to speak about Phoebe Prince’s suicide.

Parent, Luke T. Gelinas, tried to speak about the schools handling of Prince’s case but was ruled out of order and removed from the meeting on April 14.

Gelinas had objected when his comments were interrupted and reminded the board of his rights.

The then-committee chairman, Edward J. Boisselle, told Gelinas that he was a guest at the meeting and he could practice his First Amendment rights outside.

When another member of the public was talking about how Prince’s suicide had affected the community they described the situation, using the unfortunate phrase, as being like” a noose” around their necks. He was promptly ejected from the meeting by Boisselle.

Gelinas returned to another board meeting on April 28 explaining that he had been unlawfully silenced by Boisselle.
Though Joann Jordan, who had taken over as chairman, allowed Gelinas to speak she would not let him take a poll on Boisselle’s conduct.

William Newman, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Committee, on May 3, pointing out their clear violation of the First Amendment right, freedom of speech.

Newman said “The committee would have to adopt (the rules) in open session…This is a major public event and people are allowed to comment.

"Individuals who choose to speak during School Committee meetings enjoy broad protections under the First Amendment," Newman wrote. "Moreover, private citizens are not prohibited from discussing sensitive or personal information during School Committee Public Comment sessions."

The board insists that there was no attempt to impinge on Gelinas’ rights.

Gelinas and Newman will attend the Committees upcoming meeting to test if the board has understood those rights.

“These are the patriarchs of the hostile and bullying environment that has infected our kids," said Gelinas. "It's incestuous. Each generation gets bolder and bolder. Bill's letter will enable people to have a voice, not just the well-connected inner circle."

He has said that he will continue to speak out at School Committee meetings.