Former Teachers Sue SRC Over Free Speech at Charter Meeting

Plaintiffs say their rights were denied by the School Reform Commission.

Protesters carried signs outside the Feb. 18 SRC meeting. Inside, those signs were confiscated. Photo | Holly Otterbein

Protesters carried signs outside the Feb. 18 SRC meeting. Inside, those signs were confiscated. Photo | Holly Otterbein

Three women identified as former Philadelphia school teachers are suing the School Reform Commission, saying they were deprived of First Amendment rights when they had signs and posters confiscated during the SRC’s controversial meeting February 18th to discuss approval of charter schools.

The plaintiffs — Ilene Poses, Lisa Haver and Barbara Dowdall — say they opposed charter school approval and brought signs saying so. “While supporters of charter schools were permitted to express their viewpoint, the plaintiffs were not,” they said in the federal suit filed Tuesday. “Defendants confiscated small posters from the plaintiffs that contained messages of public importance, and forcibly removed one of the plaintiffs and others from the public meeting.”

When asked why the signs weren’t allowed, the trio alleges, then-SRC Chair Bill Green allegedly told one of them: “That’s our policy tonight.”

The trio says Poses was forcibly removed from the meeting. And they say charter school supporters wore T-shirts expressing that support to the meeting — allowing them to have their say while sign-carrying opponents could not. Prior to the February 18th meeting, they say, the SRC allowed such signs as long as they weren’t disruptive and didn’t block the view of others attending the meeting.

“As a final policymaker for the SRC, the decision by defendant Green, without cause or justification, to revoke the long-established policy and practice of permitting the use of signs and posters by members of the public in attendance at SRC sessions violated the First Amendment and caused the harms suffered by the plaintiffs,” the trio say in the complaint.

The Daily News identified the three plaintiffs as former Philadelphia teachers. It also talked to Green:

Green told the Daily News that he hadn’t read the lawsuit, but added that “any suggestion that I or any member of the SRC did anything inappropriate is incorrect. We will let the trier of fact decide.”

The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, and an injunction against similar restrictions at future SRC meetings.