JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi’s second-largest school district had “vague, overbroad and unconstitutional” restrictions on educators’ free speech, a judge has ruled.
Circuit Judge Jess Dickinson on Tuesday ordered Jackson Public Schools to permanently stop enforcing policies prohibiting staff from contacting parents, the public, the media, law enforcement or anyone else about issues in schools, the Clarion Ledger reported.
“By silencing its teachers, staff, employees, and organizational advocate, JPS deprives its students, their parents, and other interested parties such as legislators and taxpayers, of important information necessary to fully understand and participate in their public education system, and to call in a meaningful way for its improvement where and when needed,” Dickinson wrote.
The Jackson Federation of Teachers, a union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff, filed a lawsuit against the district last year. The policies mentioned in the court filing related to confidential information, staff ethics and the use of social media.
WAPT-TV reported that the school district said employees, faculty, and staff could be disciplined or even fired if the superintendent determines they are using social media to post “data, documents, photos, or stories.” inappropriate information… which could lead to disruption of classroom activity.”
The district’s policies have blocked free speech and hurt the union’s ability to attract potential members, wrote Dickinson, a retired Mississippi Supreme Court justice who was appointed in 2020 to help deal with a backlog of court cases in Hinds County.
The JPS Board of Directors revised the district’s policies in early April, after hearings in Hinds County Circuit Court, according to court documents. The revision rendered the court case irrelevant, officials said in the district, which has about 19,350 students.
Dickinson wrote that the court remains concerned that JPS will reinstate the impugned policies and continue to tell employees they cannot speak out in certain ways or disclose information that “is not in the best interest of the district.”