newsaugusta county leader school policy against slander defamation might stifle free speech

Augusta County leader: School policy against slander stifles free speech

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An Augusta County School Board member raised issue at a recent board meeting with the proposed addition of the words “slander” and “defame others” to the school system’s administrative policies.

I wish I was making this up.

“’Slander’ and ‘defame’ is a little bit subjective for me,” Pastures District representative Timothy Simmons said, according to reporting on the June 2 school board meeting in the News Leader.

“I don’t want to use that subjective terminology to stifle free speech,” Simmons said.

An aside here: I have to say, I honestly had never thought that laws on the books prohibiting slander and defamation might somehow run afoul of First Amendment protections.

But when you think of it …

Yeah, actually, no.

The First Amendment doesn’t protect slander and defamation.

An administrator explained the that the policy update was a meant to clarify the definitions of the words for disciplinary reasons.

The change was proposed by staff in the wake of an incident in which a student created a website posing as another student and criticized a teacher.

Another aside there: A for effort to that kid, going to the lengths to create a website.

Just channel it better, is all.

Back to our story: Simmons made a motion to strike the addition of “slander” and “defame others” and the definitions from the policy, but the motion died for lack of a second.

He wasn’t done.

Simmons also brought up a problem he had with a proposed policy prohibiting students from unauthorized recordings in class.

The issue: what if a teacher was “ in the classroom not doing something that they’re supposed to be doing.”

You know where he’s going here.

What if they’re teaching … wait for it … wait for it … American history?

You know, and not the sanitized version.

(The Founders owned slaves. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. Among other things.)

Bad news here: the board is having the staff revise the wording on this part of the policy.

Teachers, you’re on notice.

Better not be caught in the classroom not doing something that you’re supposed to be doing.

Looking at the scorecard, Simmons is 1-for-2 here.

The tiebreaker: a speaker at the meeting, county resident Jenness White, asked the board during public comment why it is changing the name of the county’s alternative school from Genesis to Valley Academy.

“It is a biblical term, but why are we changing the name? It’s been Genesis since I was in school. So I don’t understand why we’re changing it to Valley Academy,” White said.

The answer: the school name actually changed in 2019. The policy update that White was highlighting here was just reflecting that new reality.

Which is a BS answer if your issue is that there isn’t enough of this god fellow in schools, and that’s why the world is going to hell.

There was no reporting on whether the board directed staff to go back and look at the name change, in the name of King James.

Story by Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris has won 17 Virginia Press Association awards for his work as an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist. Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, Want to reach Chris? Try [email protected].