People paying attention to the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) should be careful to separate the right to free speech with validation of what is said during public comment.
On April 25, the board stopped Brian Fleisher from speaking because he spoke critically of Superintendent Brigid Nease. Subsequently, Fleisher, as well as a local attorney, accused the board of infringing on his First Amendment rights. After board members received clarity on the First Amendment and Open Meeting Law from their attorney, the board changed its public comment policy acknowledging that content cannot be censored.
Fleisher’s right to free speech was certainly violated and he should have been able to finish, as he has been at two subsequent meetings. The public should listen to his comments with a critical ear.
At the most recent HUUSD Board meeting, Fleisher lamented the fact that board members follow Nease without thinking for themselves. Specifically, he asked why the board hadn’t put together its own proposals regarding school redesign. To start, the board asked that Superintendent Nease put together and release her thoughts on school redesign after briefly mentioning the topic at several meetings during the 2016-2017 school year.
Since then the redesign proposal has evolved, with community input, to include more options and all concur that this is still the beginning of the process. Although Nease may have penned her original thoughts, school redesign is in no way solely her responsibility.
Furthermore, Fleisher claimed that 75 percent of the community opposed school redesign according to a survey that the school board conducted and released earlier this year. That calculation is his own. That figure does not reflect the community engagement committee’s interpretation and the committee acknowledged that answers to some questions were not scientifically analyzed. (See full survey at wwsu.org.)
Finally, Fleisher asks that any conversation regarding redesign should be put off at least one year, stating that there is “no cliff except for the one Brigid will drag us over.”
There are definitely external pressures driving the board toward redesign. Tax rates continue to rise, per pupil figures decline and the governor has recently proposed making major staff reductions across the state. There is certainly some sort of iceberg headed in this direction.