"Free Speech Doesn't End Just Because Somebody's Feelings Gets Hurt"
By Jason Mietchen
To all members of the 9R school board,
I have several concerns about the board meeting held last night, 9-28-2021. I participated via Zoom because the school district stated that the meeting was only a virtual meeting, not an in-person meeting. At the beginning of the meeting the board room was full of school children and other people. That sends a very confusing message. Either it was closed to everybody other than the board, or it wasn't. It would be helpful to be very specific on the logistics of future meetings.
I was able to address the board through zoom. I asked for feedback on several issues and trust that Ms. Cheser will get back to me. Another speaker followed me, but the zoom was cut off in the middle of that speaker and no one else was allowed to speak. In the email I got regarding public participation, it stated there would be a limit of 10 speakers. I am sure there were more than two speakers. Would you please explain why public participation was cut off?
The audio-visual quality of the live-stream for the public was very poor. I got kicked out several times and was not able to log back in until near the end of the meeting despite numerous attempts. I could barely hear what was being said. I was streaming the Bayfield school board meeting at the same time. The quality of their live-stream was far superior to 9R. They had a panoramic view of the room and picture in picture of whomever was speaking at the time. Our school district 9R has many more resources than Bayfield. Why can't we seem to get our virtual capabilities up to their standard or better?
I also noticed that with the Bayfield meeting the board requested that speakers sign up in advance but didn't limit them to 3 minutes. They also allowed anyone from the audience to speak after the signed-up speakers were done. There was a dialog back and forth and no one was cut off. The board listened to everybody that wanted to speak. It was a very productive exchange of information. Why can't we get that at our 9R board meetings?
At the end of the Durango meeting, the 9R school board discussed banning individual members of the public from commenting during school board meetings. The quality of the live stream was poor but it appeared that Erika Brown and Kristen Smith want to investigate making policy to ban the individuals the board feels make harsh comments or critiques of the board, at least for a period of time, as a sort of punishment. I was shocked the board would even consider this sort of suppression of free speech. I thought the board members had a basic understanding of the U.S. Constitution. All members swore an oath:
"I, (insert name), being the duly elected member of the Board of Education of Durango School District 9-R do hereby solemnly swear that I will faithfully perform the duties of the office as required by law and will support the constitution of the United States, the constitution of the state of Colorado, the laws made pursuant thereto, and the policies duly adopted by the Board of Education in accordance therewith.".
If you don't fully understand the U.S. Constitution, or don't intend to support it, you probably shouldn't swear an oath to do that.
The board members should read U.S. Supreme Court NEW YORK TIMES v. L. B. SULLIVAN. In 1969. The court ruled, “Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." Sections 24, 25, 30 and 65 of the court ruling should be required reading for school board members. Not only does preventing public comment violate free speech case law, but it also violates the oath of office you swore to uphold.
Like it or not, free speech doesn't end just because somebody's feelings get hurt. All elected or appointed members sought out this tough job. As a public figure, your performance is open to public scrutiny and should be. The board should welcome scrutiny from all sides. That way when your performance has passed said scrutiny you can be confident that you did a good job.
I just saw the reporting by the Durango Herald on the latest round of proficiency testing in our schools. My kids took those tests. I was extremely disheartened to see that the district as a whole is failing across the board. I say that meaning that if you score less than 60% correct answers on a test your grade is an F. At this point, the district only dreams of getting a C or B let alone reaching the prized A+. I'm not even going to ask you for an explanation.
From what I have seen, watching the schools and my kid's performance for the last 8 years, the district points to phantom reasons like systemic racism and other social issues that are the flavor of the month. Could it be that it's as simple as teaching basic reading, writing, math and science? Could it be that simple? It is no wonder that nobody can point to specifics. Nobody is looking at specifics, everybody is focused on nebulous concepts that can't be pinned down. It relieves accountability when we can throw up our hands and say, "it's systemic, its everywhere and nowhere!" My kids are doing well in spite of the overall failures plaguing the district. I CAN point to specifics. Let me..... It's about constantly making sure homework is done, reading is done, getting out of bed on time, going to bed on time, eating meals together, engaging in each other's lives even when it's resisted. It's about staying in constant contact with teachers, principals, vice principals even when we don't want to. It's also about helping at school when it would be easier not to. Thank God for the efforts of my wife because, let's be real, she has done most of this leg work since our kids started kindergarten and before that.
My hope was that by getting more involved and trying to have an exchange of ideas we could right the ship on a large scale. I can see the schools bailing water, but the ship is still not rising. I don't know what else to say to you. Take a look inward and make some changes to better our schools. Leave your personal feelings at home when you come to the job Yes, you have a tough job,, but you took it. You could have turned it down. You are going to have to deal with parents that are upset, why wouldn't they be? Trade places with them for a second. You would be upset too. A good start would be complete and honest listening. Be equitable and inclusive.
Thank you for your time