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Appeals court rules that school officials had a right to ban anti-trans T-shirts

Liam Morrison. Handout photo via Nemasket Week.

Not surprisingly, a federal appeals court has ruled against a Middleborough student who sued the school system after he was banned from wearing two T-shirts with anti-transgender messages.

According to an article by Sawyer Smook-Pollitt in Nemasket Week, Chief Judge David Barron, writing for the First Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that school officials did not act “unreasonably in concluding that the shirt would be understood … in this middle school setting … to demean the identity of transgender and gender nonconforming students.” John R. Ellement covered the story for The Boston Globe as well.

Earlier, Morrison lost in U.S. District Court. At this point, his only recourse would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the high court’s lurch to the right, maybe his high-profile backers at the Massachusetts Family Institute, a religious-right organization, will give it a try.

As I’ve written previously, Liam Morrison, then a seventh-grader, was sent home from the Nichols Middle School twice in the spring of 2023 — the first time for wearing a T-shirt that read “There Are Only Two Genders” and, the second time, for amending that to “There Are (Censored) Genders.”

This was not an easy call. At root, the First Amendment exists to protect unpopular speech, and Morrison’s T-shirts were surely unpopular among his LGBTQ classmates and their allies. On balance, though, I think school officials and the courts have gotten it right.

As Judge Barron observes, the T-shirts’ message was demeaning to trans students and dismissive of their very identity. By contrast, if a student wore a pro-transgender T-shirt, that would not represent any sort of threat or insult to non-trans students. In addition, the courts have ruled repeatedly that public school students’ First Amendment rights are limited when they are on school property. The school handbook in Middleborough bans clothing that targets “groups based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, religious affiliation or any other classification.”

For all these reasons, I’ve refrained from giving a New England Muzzle Award to Middleborough school officials, even though Morrison and his family no doubt believe they’ve been muzzled.

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Great Barrington teacher sues town, school district and police over classroom search

Photo (cc) 2022 by John Ramspott

When we handed out a New England Muzzle Award last December in connection with a needless middle school controversy over the book “Gender Queer,” we had to settle for anonymity: it wasn’t clear who had contacted the Great Barrington Police Department to complain that they’d found a copy in a classroom at the W.E.B. DuBois Middle School.

Well, now we have a candidate. According to a federal lawsuit filed by eighth-grade English teacher Arantzazú Zuzene Galdós-Shapiro, the complaints were filed by a “disgruntled homophobic Middle School janitor,” which led to a search of her classroom. The janitor is not named in the suit, but a report commissioned by school officials identified him as Adam Yorke and said he was no longer employed by the school district, according to a Feb. 24 article by Berkshire Eagle reporter Heather Bellow. We invite Yorke to contact us so that he can make arrangements to pick up his prize.

News of the lawsuit was broken earlier this week by Bellow, who’s been following this story from the beginning. The Boston Globe’s John R. Ellement picked up on it as well.

According to the lawsuit, Yorke may have instigated the incident, but others are far from blameless. The suit also names the town, the school district, Police Chief Paul Storti, Police Officer Joseph O’Brien and School Superintendent Peter Dillon. As Bellow reports, “Yorke had accused Galdós-Shapiro of letting a student sit on her lap and to keep information from parents. He also had provided police with photos of some content of the book that shows the explicit sexual images.” Bellow adds:

A criminal investigation was quickly dismissed after Storti and Dillon and the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office determined that the book was not “pornographic,” and after Yorke was revealed to have an “axe to grind” against the district. But the allegations “left her devastated and profoundly shaken, ill, distressed, and fearful, her reputation publicly destroyed,” the court document says.

Among other allegations against the school district, the teacher said Dillon “knew well and failed to follow the established process for challenging classroom content.”

In other words, Galdós-Shapiro alleges that the defendants backed off only after trampling on her rights. That happened, she charges, because she had been singled out as “a queer Mexican-American.”

“Gender Queer” is an illustrated book by Maia Kobabe that aimed at kids who are questioning their sexuality and that is among the country’s most frequently banned books.

Note: My original post in December mistakenly said that “Gender Queer” had been found in the school library rather than in a classroom. I’ve gone back and corrected that post.

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How our shameful public records law is affecting the Karen Read murder trial

Massachusetts Statehouse. Photo (cc) 2015 by Upstateherd.

The murder trial of Karen Read is, without question, one of the strangest spectacles we’ve seen in Massachusetts for a long time.

Read has been charged with driving over her boyfriend, former Boston police officer John O’Keefe, and leaving him to die in a snowbank. Read counters that she’s being framed — that, in fact, O’Keefe was beaten up, bitten by a dog and dragged outside. Adding to all of this is a murky federal investigation of the Norfolk County district attorney’s office and the involvement of Aiden Kearney, the Turtleboy blogger who has taken up Read’s cause and who’s been charged with witness intimidation and illegal wiretapping.

In one sense, though, it’s a very familiar story. Crucially important evidence is being withheld from the public because of our state’s restrictive public records laws. As Sean Cotter reports in The Boston Globe, autopsy reports are not considered public records in Massachusetts. We’re not unique in that regard. Citing information from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Cotter writes that among the very few states where autopsy records are considered public are Alabama, Colorado, California and Florida.

“If the public cannot see the documents that judges rely on in the course of making decisions, the public cannot make decisions on whether the judge’s decisions are correct,” First Amendment lawyer Jeffrey Pyle told the Globe.

The Norfolk DA’s office turned down the Globe’s public records request, with spokesman David Traub telling the paper, “The examination and cross-examination of the medical examiner will be where you get your answers.”

Massachusetts has long had a reputation for being among the worst states with regard to open government. About a decade ago, the Center for Public Integrity gave the state a D-plus in an overall accountability score as well as an F for public access to information. The state’s public records law was strengthened in 2016, but it remains woefully inadequate.

So let’s give a New England Muzzle Award to the Massachusetts legislature for failing to take any meaningful action to ensure that the public’s business will be conducted in public. The autopsy report on Officer O’Keefe’s death should be made public — and that’s just a small part of the much larger problem that our elected officials would rather operate in the dark than let the light shine in.

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Muzzle follow-up: North Brookfield will allow drag show at Pride event

North Brookfield Town Hall. Photo (cc) 2009 by John Phelan.

The Rural Justice Network and the ACLU of Massachusetts have settled a lawsuit they filed against town officials in North Brookfield after the town agreed to allow a Pride event to take place on June 29. The town was the recipient of a New England Muzzle Award in December after two members of the three-member board of selectmen said they would vote against a permit because it would include a drag show. It was the second time they voted “no,” having done so previously in advance of a 2023 Pride celebration. They were overturned back then, too.

There is an odd passage in the ACLU’s press release: “According to the settlement, the North Brookfield Planning Board has approved a permit for Small Town Pride on June 29, after the Town stripped the Select Board of the power to approve all future events in local parks in light of prior obstruction by the two Select Board members.” I’m not sure how “the Town” would take power away from the selectmen (yes, the town uses the old-fashioned gendered term) except at town meeting or possibly in a referendum. Otherwise, the selectmen are the town’s highest authority.

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester reported earlier this week that permitting would be turned over to North Brookfield’s parks and recreation committee, although, again, there’s no explanation as to how that transfer of power came about. T&G reporter Veer Mudambi writes that the committee did not respond to a request for comment.

The ACLU’s full press release follows:

Town agrees to refrain from future interference and alter permitting process following ACLU lawsuit

The Rural Justice Network and ACLU of Massachusetts today announced a settlement in their lawsuit against the Town of North Brookfield, following an earlier announcement that a local Pride event will go forward as planned on June 29. Two members of the town Select Board had unlawfully blocked a permit for this event because it includes plans for a drag show.

According to the settlement, the North Brookfield Planning Board has approved a permit for Small Town Pride on June 29, after the Town stripped the Select Board of the power to approve all future events in local parks in light of prior obstruction by the two Select Board members. In addition, the Town agrees not to interfere with Small Town Pride in the future and will pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

“We are pleased for the assurance that this settlement affords our clients, as well as compensation for harms caused by the unlawful interference by two Select Board members,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior managing attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts.“North Brookfield has now taken steps we hope will ensure that groups like the Rural Justice Network can exercise their right to express themselves equally and openly in public spaces. We look forward to celebrating Small Town Pride this year and for many years to come.”

In October, the Rural Justice Network requested permission to host its fourth annual Small Town Pride celebration on the North Brookfield Town Common in June 2024. During a November Board meeting, after event organizers confirmed the celebration would include a drag performance that would not be hidden from public view in a tent, the chair and then-vice chair refused to approve the Rural Justice Network’s request and explained that the decision meant that the application for the event permit “doesn’t go forward.” This prompted an ACLU lawsuit in December, alleging a pattern of discriminatory treatment, violations of free expression and assembly rights, and unlawful discrimination on the basis of gender.

“In spite of challenges we have faced in the past two years, events like Small Town Pride always make it worth the effort,” said Rob Orpilla, President of the Rural Justice Network. “We’re happy to start making concrete moves for our 2024 event now that we’ve resolved the lawsuit. This is another victory for change in our area.”

Last year, the same chair and vice chair had attempted to deny the Rural Justice Network the right to include any drag performance in its 2023 Small Town Pride celebration simply because the officials personally believe that such performance is “wrong.” The event ultimately went forward as planned after the ACLU and North Brookfield’s legal counsel became involved.

For more information about Rural Justice Network v. Town of North Brookfield, go to: https://www.aclum.org/en/cases/rural-justice-network-v-town-north-brookfield

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A Muzzle to a CT police department that kept a murder probe under wraps

Call it a slow-breaking homicide.

In New Britain, Connecticut, a woman whose obituary said she had died on March 1 was revealed more than a week later to have been the victim of a possible murder. The woman, 71-year-old Lauren “Laurie” Gualano, a retired educator, died from blunt trauma to her “head, neck, torso and extremities, with neck compression,” Hearst Connecticut reporter Christine Dempsey wrote on March 11, citing the state medical examiner’s office, which said it was treating Gualano’s death as a homicide.

Dempsey also said on Twitter/X: “This is probably the first time in my career that a police department did not release any information about a homicide. Not even where it happened, or when.” According to her story:

New Britain police did not release any information about the homicide and did not return phone or emailed messages Monday, and in a written response to a call and text message Monday morning, [Rachel] Zaniewski [a spokeswoman for the mayor] said, “this situation is still being actively investigated, so unfortunately, I don’t have any additional updates on my end at this point.”

The city has a policy of directing the media to the mayor’s office, instead of the police or fire departments, for information about public safety matters.

This morning, Hearst reported that Gualano’s son, Nicholas Legienza, 39, was in custody and was under investigation for his possible involvement.

Under public records laws in most states, including Connecticut, the police are not required to release detailed information about a crime if that would impede their investigation. But sitting on a possible murder for more than a week and not confirming it even after the state medical examiner called the death a homicide is a violation of the public trust. For that, the New Britain Police Department has earned a New England Muzzle Award.

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AG Campbell boosts free speech for electeds, while an anti-trans shirt goes to court

Attorney General Andrea Campbell. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

A past winner of a New England Muzzle Award is in the news, while a more ambiguous case is making its way through the federal courts.

First, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell recently issued guidance stating that local elected officials have no fear of violating the state’s open meeting law if they take part in re-election activities such as debates or candidate forums where they discuss pending municipal business. Campbell’s decision follows a ruling by our Muzzle winner, Waltham City Solicitor John Cervone, that such activities would be “potentially problematic,” raising the specter that officials running for re-election would be barred from any substantive discussion of local issues.

Campbell’s guidance was hailed in a Boston Globe editorial, which noted that a similar situation had arisen in Newton. The editorial observed that Campbell gave her blessing even to situations at which a quorum of officials are present (for instance, three members of a five-member selectboard) “as long as they address their answers to the public, not to each other.” Campbell’s guidance reads in part:

The Open Meeting Law does not restrict an individual’s right to make comments to the general public, particularly as a candidate for office. Rather, it restricts communication between or among a quorum of a public body outside of a meeting; thus, the intent of the public official is an important consideration.

The Waltham and Newton restrictions were absurd, and Campbell was right to set them aside.

Second, Liam Morrison of Middleborough, Massachusetts, who as a seventh-grade student last year was banned from wearing an anti-transgender T-shirt to school, has taken his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after losing his bid to overturn the ban in federal district court. Morrison wore a shirt that said “There Are Only Two Genders.” And when that didn’t pass muster, he returned to school with a T-shirt that said “There Are [Censored] Genders.” That earned him a trip back home as well.

According to a report by Reuters, the appeals court seemed unimpressed with Morrison’s free speech argument at a recent hearing. Here’s part of the Reuters article:

U.S. Circuit Judge Lara Montecalvo contrasted the shirt with a brochure handed out by students expressing a particular message, saying unlike those pieces of paper, a student could not throw away the shirt that Morrison was wearing.

“A T-shirt that is worn all day is worn all day,” she said. “You have to look at it, you have to read it.”

Deborah Ecker, a lawyer for the Middleborough School Committee, said the school officials’ actions were motivated by concern for the mental health of LGBTQ students, “who are captive in this classroom looking at it.”

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby sides firmly with Morrison, writing:

In court filings, Middleborough’s lawyers argue that the school was entitled to suppress Morrison’s message out of concern that it could have led to “disruption.” Yet contrary messages are permitted. No discipline was imposed when a student came to class in a “He she they, it’s all okay” T-shirt. School administrators cannot have it both ways, allowing students to express the popular side of a debatable issue but silencing those who disagree because their opinion might provoke an angry reaction. The First Amendment does not bow to the heckler’s veto.

My own opinion is that this is not as simple as Jacoby makes it seem. As Jacoby himself notes, public school students have limited free speech rights when they are on school grounds. And though there’s a certain logic to the either/or choice Jacoby presents, it doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny. An anti-LGBTQ message expresses animosity toward specific people, including fellow students whose orientation is something other than he or she. A pro-LGBTQ message affirms everyone’s humanity without — and this is the key — expressing any animosity toward people like Morrison who hold a different viewpoint.

Given that difference, it seems to me that Middleborough school officials got it right. Based on the Reuters report, it sounds like the appeals court is likely to agree when it issues its ruling.

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In Marblehead and Waltham, teachers and officials seek to stifle public scrutiny

In Marblehead, a number of teachers and other school staff members recently showed up at a school committee meeting to complain about public records requests filed by a nonprofit news organization that covers the town. In Waltham, the city solicitor issued what amounted to a pre-election gag order, advising city officials who were running for re-election that if they participated in candidates forums they should not address pending municipal business. These two attempts to shut down discussion of important community issues have earned the perps our latest New England Muzzle Awards (see explanation here).

First, let’s take a look at what’s going on in Marblehead. According to Ryan Vermette of the Marblehead Weekly News, the co-presidents of the teachers union, the Marblehead Education Association, said at a school committee meeting that public records requests submitted by Marblehead Current reporter Leigh Blander were costing the town money and creating a stressful situation for their members. Vermette’s article begins:

The library at Marblehead High School was standing room only at the start of the School Committee’s meeting last Thursday night as dozens of district staff stood with committee members against what they alleged was an excessive amount of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests from a local newspaper.

“Not only does this waste significant time and resources for the district, but it causes significant stress for our educators, who become the subject of these investigations, and their reputations come under attack,” Vermette quoted co-president Jonathan Heller as saying. “While the number of incidents is relatively small to date, the threat they represent is apparent.” The other co-president, Sally Shevory, was not quoted in the story.

Now. for some background, because this is a little complicated. The for-profit Marblehead Weekly News, published by The Daily Item of neighboring Lynn, is one of three independent news outlets covering the town. The Marblehead Current, where Blander works, is a nonprofit. The third, Marblehead Beacon, is a for-profit; oddly enough, Jenn Schaeffner, a founder, editor and reporter for the Beacon is also a member of the school committee. Beacon articles about the school system are appended with this: “She [Schaeffner] is recusing herself from Marblehead Beacon’s coverage of the School Committee and anything pertaining to Marblehead Public Schools.” As best as I could tell, the Beacon has made no mention of the public records issue.

Marblehead has been beset by several controversial issues involving the school system recently, including a heavily scrutinized statement by the superintendent about the war between Israel and Hamas; a bullying investigation involving a former high school soccer coach; and possible disciplinary issues involving a former superintendent. If you’d like, you can read all the details in a Current editorial responding to the public records matter. What’s relevant is that the Current is being called out by union leaders and school officials for trying to hold them to account through their journalism. As Blander said in a statement to the Weekly News: “In pursuit of our mission to foster democratic participation by informing our readers about important issues, including those that impact students and their families, the Current seeks to make responsible use of the public records laws.”

What’s more, there is no evidence that the Current has abused the public records law by filing an inordinate number of requests. According to the editorial, “Since our launch in June 2022, we have filed 15 public records requests, 14 of which have been directed to the School Department.” Eleven of those were related to the departure of the previous superintendent. To be fair, school officials determined that a recent request for records about complaints against teachers would have required poring over nearly 477,000 emails, and that the Current would be assessed $50,000. But as the editorial put it: “As should have been obvious, the Current was not seeking to commission such a voluminous and intrusive search. We agree that would not be the best use of school employees’ time (or our money). Moving forward, if we inadvertently submit overly broad records requests to record keepers, we hope our partners in public service would simply call us and ask, ‘What are you really looking for? Can we find a way to respond without overburdening our staff?'” The editorial concluded:

Our school officials have to realize, though, that if what they are asking is essentially “stop asking so many questions,” we view that prescription as a non-starter. While we will take better care to make our requests more targeted and less burdensome, we will continue to use the public records law to seek answers we believe the public deserves.

The public records law exists so that members of the public — and the press, acting as representatives of the public — can hold government accountable. This particular Muzzle Award goes not to any particular individual but, rather, to union officials and the school committee as a whole for promoting an atmosphere suggesting that they know best, and that the prying eyes of the press are not welcome.

***

In Waltham, meanwhile, City Solicitor John Cervone has earned a Muzzle for issuing a ruling calling it “potentially problematic” if elected members of the city council who were participating in candidates forums addressed issues that were currently under consideration. This is an absurd restriction, since a challenger would be free to discuss such issues freely while the incumbent would be forced to sit there and say nothing except “upon the advice of counsel blah blah blah.” As a Boston Globe editorial put it:

The opinion appears to be based on vague — and somewhat shaky — legal grounds, and state officials ought to swat it down before the idea spreads. Some candidates in Waltham have understood it as a gag order in the heat of election season, a curb on political candidates’ speech at multicandidate forums that makes it harder for voters to make educated choices.

Justin Silverman, a lawyer who’s the executive director of the New England First Amendment Association, was quoted as saying that Cervone’s opinion appeared to be based on a misunderstanding of the state’s open meeting law. “If there isn’t a quorum present at public events, then it’s not a violation under the open meeting law,” Silverman said. No doubt — and yet it’s more than theoretically possible that a quorum of council members could be present at a candidates forum if they were all running for re-election.

A mayoral candidate, City Councilor Jonathan Paz, said Cervone’s opinion created a “chilling effect,” adding, “We as candidates are supposed to be candid, we’re supposed to be transparent about our values and our positions on certain matters.” And wouldn’t you know it: Paz lost his challenge to incumbent Mayor Jeannette McCarthy by a wide margin. No doubt it’s a stretch to say that the gag order hurt Paz’s campaign — but surely it didn’t help.

The Globe editorial notes that a similar issue arose in Newton four years ago. It’s time to clarify the law so that muncipal lawyers in other communities don’t travel down a similar censorious path.

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A Muzzle Award goes to an R.I. city councilor who threw a critic out of the chambers

The Providence Journal’s Antonia Noori Farzan reported last month that a land transfer to Donna Travis, a member of the city council in Warwick, Rhode Island, had come under scrutiny, with the new leaders of a group that gave Travis the land raising questions about possible improprieties. Travis denied any wrongdoing.

It wasn’t the first time that Travis’ behavior had come under scrutiny. Back in 2017, she admitted she’d violated the state’s ethics code and paid a $1,200 fine. According to the Journal’s Carol Kozma, Travis’ case stemmed from her mixing her roles as a city official and as an executive at local nonprofit organizations. (I was able to access Farzan’s story through my USA Today subscription, but the process is convoluted and I don’t have a working link.)

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What brought this to my attention is what happened next. At a July 17 city council meeting, a Warwick resident named Rob Cote — identified by Rob Borkowski of the Warwick Post as a “frequent city critic” — was escorted out of the council chambers by a uniformed police officer after he had the temerity to wave a copy of the Journal at the council members and say, “First, I’d like to congratulate Councilwoman Donna Travis. Another front page of The Providence Journal.”

According to the Post and to a video of the proceedings rebroadcast on WPRI-TV (Channel 12), Travis immediately interjected that Cote would be thrown out if he failed to restrict his comments to matters involving city government.

Cote: “This is about city government.”

Travis: “Stick to a topic about city government or else you’ll be escorted out.”

Cote: “This is about city government. It’s actually mentioned about the Warwick City Council.”

Travis: “Did you hear what I just said?”

After telling Travis that the ACLU would hear about her attempts to squelch him, Cote was led out of the building. And sure enough, the ACLU of Rhode Island has gotten involved, writing a letter in conjunction with the New England First Amendment Coalition in which they “call upon the Council to reassure the public that this type of response will not be repeated and that residents will be free to speak at future meetings on matters involving city government without fear of being silenced.”

For her censorious efforts to shut down public discussion of an issue involving city government, Donna Travis has earned a New England Muzzle Award.

Now, let me tease out a few of the nuances here. As noted in the ACLU-NEFAC letter, signed by Steven Brown, executive editor of the ACLU of Rhode Island, and Justin Silverman, executive director of NEFAC, the city of Warwick imposes certain restrictions on members of the public who wish to speak at governmental meetings. One is that their comments pertain to issues “directly affecting city government.” But as the letter notes, Cote was shut down barely before he could get a word out, and, in any case, the property dispute involving Travis was “clearly a topic of public concern.”

In addition, the letter notes that Travis told the Warwick Beacon “it was the unwritten practice of the City Council not to allow ‘personal attacks’ during the public comment period.” Brown and Silverman respond that, “leaving aside the impropriety of relying on an ‘unwritten’ policy to censor the speech of a member of the public, any such policy itself is just as problematic from a First Amendment standpoint. In fact, courts have often struck down such restrictions as a violation of the public’s free speech rights.”

The other nuance I want to bring up is that the lack civility at local public meetings has become a real problem, making it difficult for elected officials to conduct business and driving some of them out of government. We’ve all seen televised school committee meetings at which out-of-control members of the public start screaming about critical race theory, transgender issues, vaccines or whatever. It can be difficult to know where to draw the line. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that local officials had gone too far in silencing a woman who twice called a select board chair “a Hitler.”

In the Warwick case, though, Cote comes across as polite, if sarcastic, and ready to talk about a matter of considerable public concern.

Travis might also consider the Streisand effect. Few people would know about the property dispute if she hadn’t tried to silence Cote. All around, it was a pretty sad performance by someone who was elected to act in the public’s best interest.

Correction: This post originally said that Travis was “led out of the building.” It was, of course, Cote.

The Mystic Valley Charter School, winner of a 2017 Muzzle, is back to its old tricks

Attorney General Andrea Campbell. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School — recipient of one of the all-time most outrageous New England Muzzle Awards back in 2017 — is in trouble once again, this time for its insistence on conducting the public’s business behind closed doors. Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub reports that state Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office has asked a judge to order that the taxpayer-funded school produce public documents it has refused to hand over despite requests at the local level as well as repeated demands by Secretary of State Bill Galvin.

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School officials claim they do not have to comply because Mystic Valley, based in Malden, doesn’t meet the definition of a “public school,” even though state law specifically describes charter schools as such. In any case, they say they won’t produce the records until a judge orders them to do so, notwithstanding the fact that the state public records law empowers the secretary of state to enforce the law.

The records, sought by Malden News Network, a local journalism outlet; Commonwealth Transparency, an advocacy group; and Malden mayoral candidate Lissette Alvarado cover a wide range of issues, including payroll, contracts, conflicts of interest, accountings of school income, copies of emails, and documents regarding Boston Globe stories about the school.

Now, to get back to that 2017 Muzzle Award from GBH News. During the 2016-’17 school year, Mystic Valley administrators began enforcing a dress-code prohibition against hair extensions, worn most often by Black female students. After parents complained about the clearly racist policy, school officials doubled down, leading to reporting by The Boston Globe and other news organizations. Yet the school refused to back down until then-Attorney General Maura Healey intervened.

That stiff-necked refusal to acknowledge its own wrongdoing obviously hasn’t changed over the years. When a judge finally orders the school to produce public documents, it will be interesting to see whether Mystic Valley complies — or if, instead, its administrators decide the judge somehow improperly claimed jurisdiction, or was wearing the wrong-colored robe or something.

If you want to read the full complaint, Adam’s posted it at the link above. The Boston Globe reports on Campbell’s lawsuit here. And Malden News Network has posted an item on its Facebook page.

Muzzle follow-up: RFK Jr. loses his appeal over Warren’s criticism of his COVID book

Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Photo (cc) 2019 by Gage Skidmore.

A federal appeals court has sided with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her battle with Amazon over a book that promoted falsehoods about COVID-19. Presidential candidate and noted conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who contributed to the book, sued Warren on First Amendment grounds, but Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub — who keeps an eye on the courts so that I don’t have to — reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that Warren has the same right to criticize Amazon as anyone else.

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Last July, I gave Warren a New England Muzzle Award, arguing that though she did indeed have the right to criticize Amazon, a statement she issued targeting Amazon’s algorithmic promotion of books such as “The Truth about COVID-19,” for which Kennedy wrote the introduction, suggested that she was threatening to use her position as a prominent elected official to seek regulation of Amazon’s business practices. In a press release issued in 2021, Warren criticized a “pattern and practice of misbehavior” that “suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products — an unethical, unacceptable, and potentially unlawful course of action from one of the nation’s largest retailers.”

Prominent civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate told The Boston Globe that Kennedy and his fellow plaintiffs had a strong case, saying, “You’d think that a former Harvard law professor would know better.”

But a federal district court disagreed, and now the appeals court has disagreed as well. From the appeals court’s decision:

Elizabeth Warren, as a single Senator, has no unilateral power to penalize Amazon for promoting “The Truth About COVID-19.” This absence of authority influences how a reasonable person would read her letter. A similar letter might be inherently coercive if sent by a prosecutor with the power to bring charges against the recipient…. The letter could be viewed as more threatening if it were penned by an executive official with unilateral power that could be wielded in an unfair way if the recipient did not acquiesce…. But as one member of a legislature who is removed from the relevant levers of power, Senator Warren would more naturally be viewed as relying on her persuasive authority rather than on the coercive power of the government to take action against Amazon.

Although it was admittedly a stretch to argue that Warren’s statement amounted to a threat rather than mere criticism of Amazon’s business practices, she could have followed up by holding hearings and filing legislation that would, for instance, ban the use of algorithmic promotion of books that indulge in falsehoods. We have enough book-banning going on in the country, thanks to Ron DeSantis and his ilk, without having one of our leading progressive senators taking part. Given that Warren did not actually seek to follow up her words with actions, though, I’ll concede that the courts got it right.

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