Ohio School Accused of Silencing Critics of Armed Teachers

CINCINNATI (CN) – Five Ohioans opposed to a school’s policy of arming teachers claim the school board violated their rights to free speech by silencing them or limiting their ability to speak out against the policy at public meetings. 

Sandra Ison sued the Madison Local School Board on Wednesday, alleging it has censored her and her family as they tried to raise concerns over the school’s decision to arm teachers after a 2016 shooting at the Middletown, Ohio, school. Four students were injured after an adult shooter entered the school, about 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati. 

“The school board has engaged in a concerted campaign designed to chill and silence plaintiffs from further public criticism of its actions by imposing prior restraints on plaintiffs’ ability to participate in public meetings and by fabricating requirements as barriers to public participation that do not appear in the school board’s written rules,” according to the 13-page federal lawsuit filed by lead attorney Matt Miller-Novak with Godbey Law in Cincinnati.

Ison’s child attends school in the Madison school district. Named plaintiffs Abby and Billy Ison are Sandra’s parents and plaintiff James Cullen is her boyfriend, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Carolyn Patrick, an area resident, is another co-plaintiff.    

They want a court declaration that the board is violating their First and 14th Amendment rights, plus an injunction and damages. Neither their attorney nor the school board were immediately available for comment Thursday after business hours. 

The school’s rules of public participation allow people to speak for up to three minutes but the board reserves the right to dismiss speakers if they make comments “personally directed” at board members or statements that are “antagonistic.” The lawsuit calls the board’s policy at meetings vague and unconstitutional.

At a meeting in May 2018, Billy Ison spoke about how the school had punished students for participating in school walkouts over gun violence and voiced his opposition to arming teachers. The board cut him short and the complaint says an armed deputy stopped him from talking and marched him away. 

Two armed deputies stand on either side of Sandra Ison when she delivers her remarks at board meetings, according to the complaint. Whenever Billy uses the term “pro-gun agenda” the board threatens to remove him, the lawsuit states. 

The complaint also claims that board president David French has photographed Billy Ison’s home and license plate, and placed his personal information on Facebook to intimidate him and chill his speech.  

“Plaintiffs philosophically, morally, and ethically oppose these actions by the school board and desire to address the board during the public participation portion of its meetings to raise their concerns with these policies,” the lawsuit states. “Their desire to speak publicly has been met with censorship and condemnation from the school board.”

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