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School Board Member Sues PUSD Over First Amendment Rights

Published on Thursday, October 21, 2021 | 2:26 pm
Tina Wu Fredericks (File photo)

PUSD Board Member Tina Fredericks filed a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to invalidate four board protocols on the ground that they violate the PUSD Board Members’ free speech, free petition, and free press rights.

The four board Protocols in question require board members to submit opinion pieces to the Superintendent and Board President before their publication, prohibit Board Members from collaborating on opinion pieces without approval of the full board, and restrict what board members may say in opinion pieces about other board members.

“I am having to protect the outside expressive rights of all board members,” Fredericks said. “The controversy has arisen because I wrote op-eds supporting a COVID vaccine mandate without clearing them with the Superintendent and the President – both of whom have refused to support a vaccine mandate, because l have appeared at a press conference with Pasadena

Mayor Victor Gordo urging that PUSD adopt a vaccine mandate, and because I have solicited support for a vaccine mandate through a petition from PUSD residents But what is at stake is the right of all Board members to communicate to the public on important issues without restriction. If my rights can be restricted today, then every Board Members’ rights can be restricted tomorrow.”

Attorney Elbie J. Hickambottom, Jr., expects to serve the board members with the lawsuit at the beginning of the 6 p.m. Board meeting tonight. Ironically, the PUSD Board meeting room is named after his father Elbie J Hickambottom, a former President of the PUSD Board.

The lawsuit alleges that the 4 Protocols constitute unconstitutional prior restraints on publications and unconstitutionally discriminate against board members expressive activity rights.

Fredericks’ attorneys, the Pasadena civil rights firm the Law Office of Gronemeier & Hickambottom, sent the PUSD Board a 19 page demand letter on October 6 setting out legal authority that pre-publication restraints on free speech/petition/press rights are prohibited and that elected officials have the same rights as other person to engage in expressive activity. It demanded that the board rescind the four allegedly unconstitutional Protocols by October 15.

“PUSD didn’t even try to meet the deadline,” said Attorney Dale Gronemeier. “Despite PUSD’s dithering, when it asked us to extend the deadline to allow the board to further consider it, we extended it for a week. We expected the board to agendize a vote on rescinding the 4 protocols at its October 21 meeting, but it failed to do so. When the agenda for the board’s October 21 meeting was published without giving the board a chance to rescind the 4 Protocols, we filed the lawsuit yesterday.”

Gronemeier said that his firm was representing Frederick pro bono, adding “The freedoms of speech, petitioning, and the press are core democratic rights that are especially important to protect at all levels of government in this era when undemocratic forces are attacking them. We are proud of board member Fredericks for exercising her outside expressive rights on the important issue of protecting students by a vaccine mandate. We are proud to represent her pro bono.”

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