Friday, July 28, 2017

David L. Hudson Jr.: There’s no First Amendment right to be a helicopter parent

  Public elementary school officials had the right to limit campus access of parents who were disruptive, a federal judge has ruled. Because of disruptive behavior, the school’s access in limiting access was reasonable.

  Corey and Misty Camfield had three children attending Jefferson Elementary School in Redondo Beach, California. Both parents were issued “disruptive parent” letters. Parents who receive a disruptive parent letter generally must give 24-hour notice and seek permission before coming to campus other than for picking up and dropping off their children. Corey Camfield had gotten into a heated argument with another parent. Misty Camfield allegedly called the principal a profane name and repeatedly entered the school’s Learning Center without an appointment in violation of school rules.

  After their children graduated or transferred from the school, the Camfields sued the school district and several school officials. They alleged numerous constitutional claims, including a First Amendment free-speech claim.

  The Camfields contended that they were denied or limited access to the school campus because of their arguments and disagreements with school personnel or other parents. However, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright ruled in Camfield v. Board of Trustees of Redondo Beach Unified School District that “the biggest legal barrier to this argument is that public schools are not public forums for purposes of free speech.”

  The public forum doctrine is an important principle in First Amendment law. Under this doctrine, people’s access to government property for speech purposes often depends upon the classification of the property as either a traditional public forum, a designated public forum, a limited public forum, or a nonpublic forum.

  People have greater access to exercise their free-speech rights at a traditional public forum, such as a public park or a public street than other forums. Free-speech rights are most limited in nonpublic forums.

  Because a public school is a nonpublic forum, Judge Wright wrote that school officials only needed to have a reasonable basis for limiting the Camfields’ access to campus. According to Wright, “no reasonable jury could find that the temporary limitations (and not total ban) of [the Camfields] participation on Jefferson Elementary’s campus, were not reasonable in light of their disruptions to the normal activities of campus.”

  The decision shows the continued importance of the public forum doctrine and the reality that parents who curse at other parents or school personnel could have their school access limited.

  About the author: David L. Hudson, Jr. is the author of Let the Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Freedom of Expression in American Schools and Teen Legal Rights (3rd Edition).

  This article was published by the Newseum Institute.

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