ENCINITAS — The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation is concerned the San Dieguito Union High School District board of trustees has suppressed public comments at recent board meetings, according to a recent letter shared with The Coast News.
Last week, the ACLU sent a letter to the school district’s board members after receiving reports that Board President Maureen “Mo” Muir had “cut off multiple people without warning” during a February board meeting.
The letter alleges Muir silenced public comments that were critical of the board’s recent decision to stop accepting written public comments for agenda items while allowing others to speak.
Melissa Deleon, an equity staff attorney at the ACLU and author of the letter, said restricting lawful public comments violates First Amendment protections and the Brown Act, which requires legislative bodies to provide opportunities for the public to address agenda items.
Miquel Jacobs, communications coordinator at SDUHSD, said that until recently, the district accepted written public comments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collection and organizing of these comments became too burdensome on the staff, so they stopped collecting written comments.
During both virtual and in-person meetings, public comment is allowed on each agenda item. However, participants are asked to keep their comments specific to the agenda item or speak during an open comment period.
“This was a procedural issue and had nothing to do with any disagreement with the speaker’s comments,” Jacobs said. “Instead, [Muir] was ensuring that the public comment was consistent with the special meeting’s agenda.”
Deleon’s letter also raised concerns that there may be a pattern of discouraging adversarial comments, citing board member Michael Allman’s actions during a meeting on Dec. 15, 2020.
“After student members of the board expressed concerns about reopening schools, Trustee Michael Allman appeared to become agitated and angry, responding, “I think the value that they [students] provide in what we have to decide is very near zero…to think that this board should place very much weight at all on what a couple of individual high schoolers think is a dereliction,” Deleon wrote.
Jacobs offered a rebuttal for this aspect of the letter.
“Trustee Alman has apologized for his remarks and has since indicated that he absolutely values our student board members,” Jacobs said.