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Douglas Co. School District lifts order prohibiting journalist from attending school board meetings

August 15, 2012

Under pressure from the ACLU of Colorado, the Douglas County School District (“DCSD”) late Tuesday afternoon lifted its order prohibiting journalist and videographer Brian Malone from attending school board meetings. The order was lifted in response to an ACLU demand letter sent late Monday afternoon by ACLU cooperating counsel Steve Zansberg and Chris Beall, of the Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz law firm. In the letter, ACLU lawyers demanded that DCSD immediately withdraw its directive—issued last week—that prohibited Mr. Malone from attending any future school board meetings. The ACLU also demanded that DCSD immediately withdraw its directive that required Mr. Malone, unlike any other member of the public or press, to receive pre-approval from DCSD before audio or video recording public meetings conducted on DCSD grounds. In less than twenty-four hours, DCSD complied with each of the ACLU’s demands.

“We are encouraged by the school district’s prompt action that avoids a lawsuit and restores Mr. Malone’s constitutional right to attend meetings of public bodies under the same terms as any other journalist or member of the public, said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “Access to public meetings for the general public and the media in particular is an essential part of a democracy.”

Silverstein noted that unfortunately, over the last several years, the inner workings of the Douglas County School Board have become less and less transparent. According to a study published by EdNews Colorado, since 2007, the Douglas County School Board has more than doubled its use of secretive “executive sessions” and dramatically limited the amount of time it spends in public session. “Given these developments,” Silverstein said, “access to school board meetings by journalists like Mr. Malone is particularly important.”

At the last school board meeting on August 7, DCSD ejected Mr. Malone after he placed his video camera tripod in a location that allowed the camera to capture the faces of the individuals making presentations to the board – the same location where he had been allowed to videotape during every meeting over the last three months. The meeting continued uninterrupted until a DCSD security official and the Castle Rock police demanded that Mr. Malone remove his camera. The officers eventually ushered Mr. Malone out of the building and then ordered him to appear in court in October to face a criminal charge of “disrupting a lawful assembly.” The ACLU of Colorado, through cooperating counsel Daniel Recht, of Recht and Kornfeld, will defend Malone in that criminal case.

While ejecting Mr. Malone, the DCSD security official informed the journalist that he was now prohibited from entering any school district property for any purpose. On Monday, Mr. Malone received a formal letter from DCSD confirming the prohibition was still in place, except that Mr. Malone may enter the schools his two daughters attend. DCSD added a restriction prohibiting Mr. Malone from using any recording device on any DCSD property without prior approval, a limitation not placed on the general public or other journalists.

The ACLU responded with a letter to DCSD’s legal counsel late Monday. The letter advised that Mr. Malone was a journalist who had a right to attend school board meetings and be treated the same as other journalists and members of the public. The letter also warned that if the ban order were not rescinded by close of business on Tuesday, ACLU lawyers would seek relief in court.
“DCSD’s limitations on Mr. Malone were clearly a violation of his constitutional rights,” said ACLU cooperating counsel Steve Zansberg. “We are gratified that Douglas County School District has agreed to restore Mr. Malone’s ability to do his journalistic work by covering school board meetings and those of other local public bodies on District grounds.”

Learn more about Brian Malone and Malone Media Group.

Read the letter to DCSD.

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