Vermont's federal trial court has ruled in favor of a Rutland County parent who was barred from school board meetings, concluding that the ban violated his rights to free speech and due process.
Beginning in 2011, Marcel and Veronica Cyr began criticizing the quality of the education their son was receiving at the Benson Village School. Their disenchantment with the school, and its test scores, led them to attend school board meetings, put up lawn signs, and decorate their cars with slogans encouraging defeat of the school budget.
In September 2011 and March 2012, the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union issued Marcel Cyr no-trespass orders that forbade him from coming onto any school property in the six-town supervisory union. The orders were single sheets of paper and had no explanation why Cyr had been banned, or how he could challenge the ban. The orders made no exception for attending school board meetings and cautioned Cyr that he could be arrested if he set foot on school property.
When Cyr submitted a public records request to the supervisory union in 2012 for information showing the reasons he had been banned, the supervisory union sued him in Rutland Superior Court, asking the court to rule that it need not release any records. With the help of ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Dan Barrett and Burlington attorney Ted Hobson, Cyr had the suit against him dismissed and obtained the records.
Hobson and Barrett then filed suit against the supervisory union in federal court, arguing that the no-trespass orders violated Cyr's rights to free speech, to receive information, and to due process.
Today, U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled that the no-trespass orders amounted to "a categorical ban on expressive speech" that singled out Cyr for censorship. The court also held that the orders violated Cyr's right to procedural due process because they contained no explanation of why they were issued, no way to contest them, and were issued in such a nonstandard way as to create a likelihood of misuse.
"This is a great ruling for free speech and open government in Vermont," said ACLU of Vermont Executive Director Allen Gilbert. "What the ruling says is that schools and towns cannot skirt the Constitution by deciding that they don't want to hear someone's critical voice," said Gilbert.
"Government agencies across Vermont should read this ruling," said Barrett. "The ruling makes clear that voters and parents like Marcel Cyr are the heart of democracy. Their views are at the core of free speech," he said.
The next step in the case is for the court to determine the remedies and damages that Cyr is entitled to for winning the case through today's ruling. The Cyrs have since moved out of Benson, feeling ostracized.
All court filings from the case are online.