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ST. PAUL, Minnesota. Aug. 24, 2022 – In the wake of a lawsuit challenging what Becker teachers called a “gag order,” the Becker School Board voted at a special meeting Tuesday night to rescind its restrictive communications policy.
The Becker Education Association, a local affiliate of Education Minnesota, filed its lawsuit last week in the Sherburne County District Court. The lawsuit claimed the sweeping policy of prior restraint violated the free speech provision of the state constitution and several state laws.
The co-presidents of the Becker Education Association, Jason Baune and Ben Pany, had no comment about the lawsuit last week because the policy prohibited staff from saying anything to the news media that might reflect negatively on the district.
On Wednesday, Baune said: “We’re relieved. The Becker community deserves to hear the unfiltered truth from classroom educators about what’s happening in our schools, both the successes and things we need to improve. Becker teachers hope to work with the school board in the future to provide students the best education possible.”
The district has also considered a sweeping policy to ban “inherently divisive” concepts from the schools, called board policy 471. The policy would restrict students’ freedom to learn complete lessons in American history, including the role of racism. It would also prevent teachers from presenting authors with new viewpoints, discussing current events and teaching students how to think critically and speak civilly about difficult topics. The board tabled that policy earlier this month amid protests by educators, community members and civil rights groups.
Becker Education Association leaders said the restrictions on curriculum in policy 471 ran counter to the district’s vision of “preparing self-directed learners to thrive in a changing global community” and promised to resist if the board brought back the policy.
Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said restrictions on free speech like those imposed by the Becker school board were unacceptable. “This gag order, and policies like it, are unacceptable,” she said. “Educators need the freedom to speak out about what’s happening inside Minnesota schools. Our students need advocates and our school communities, news media and elected leaders deserve access to the truth.”
The Becker Education Association will withdraw its lawsuit, but retains the right to refile if the board adopts a similarly problematic policy.
About Education Minnesota
Education Minnesota is the voice for professional educators and students. Education Minnesota’s members include teachers and education support professionals in Minnesota’s public school districts, faculty members at Minnesota’s community and technical colleges and University of Minnesota campuses in Duluth and Crookston, retired educators and student teachers. Education Minnesota is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.