New school board proposal would severely restrict student expression

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A Pennsylvania school board is revising district policies on academic freedom, student expression, and the selection of library books.

According to the Bucks County Courier Times, the Pennridge School Board argues that such measures are necessary to protect students from teachers who advance social and political causes. Other policies are needed to protect students from “age-inappropriate content,” said Joan Cullen, school board president.

Under the proposed policy, students would be prohibited from sharing “any printed, technological or written materials, regardless of form, source, or authorship, that are not prepared as part of the curricular or extracurricular program of the district, including but not limited to fliers, invitations, announcements, pamphlets, posters, online discussion areas and digital bulletin boards, personal websites and the like.”

Critics argue that such restrictions are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve sued a lot of school districts. This is going way further than anything I have ever seen,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“I’m almost speechless at just how overbroad this policy is. This literally says that the school has a right to control everything that the students communicate to each other in writing or through text or digitally,” Walczak said.

Board member Ron Wurz defended the policy, saying, “It’s not about the board restricting speech in the classroom. It’s about making sure that divisive issues such as religion, gender, sexuality, abortion and politics, are represented from a neutral perspective.”

WHYY News reports that parents of Pennridge students are prepared to fight the new policy. Pennridge parents are working with parents from a nearby school facing similar policies to learn from their experiences. Such measures are “unconstitutional and un-American,” said Jane Kramer, the mother of a high school student.

During a June committee meeting, Pennridge Superintendent David Bolton attempted to assuage concerns about the new policy, stating, “I promise that the intent of this will not be valentines at elementary school. I promise. Although, technically, it may very well.”

The Pennsylvania State Education Association teachers union declined comment on the proposals, reports the Bucks County Courier Times.

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