A Massachusetts court has ruled that the Natick School Committee has been violating the state constitution by suppressing public speech at committee meetings.
The Middlesex Superior Court ruled on Wednesday against the Natick School Committee, Natick Public Schools' interim superintendent, Anna Nolin, and the school committee chair, Lisa Tabenkin, saying a policy used during public speaking portions of meetings allowed the committee to unconstitutionally silence speakers. The committee had claimed it had the right to limit speech if they found it "improper," "abusive," or "defamatory."
Two mothers of former Natick Public School students, Karin Sutter and Corey Spaulding, filed a lawsuit against the Natick School Committee in April.
At a February meeting, Sutter tried to speak about what she saw as a "hostile" environment in the schools. She was summarily shut down by the committee chair. Sutter then tried to comment about the committee shutting Spaulding down at an earlier meeting for talking about bullying in the schools. The committee chair told Sutter she was suspending the meeting, and that if Sutter didn't leave, she would be escorted out.
That led Sutter and Spaulding to sue the committee, its chairperson and the interim school superintendent.
"It was so vindicating to know that in fact my free speech rights are protected, so that we can speak out when we're unhappy with the way our government is running, and we won't be afraid of being shut down," Sutter said.
The Middlesex Superior Court said in its ruling that the school committee violated the state constitution by "failing to define the terms 'improper' and 'abusive' as referring to obscenities ... threats, and fighting words ... and by failing expressly to limit 'defamatory' remarks as remarks that have been adjudicated defamatory."
Interim superintendent Anna Nolin told WGBH the Natick School's administration is not commenting until more detailed court documents can be reviewed.