YCCD to make changes to free speech policy

January 5, 2014

by Nan Austin at The Modesto Bee

The Yosemite Community College District board will meet Wednesday and take up changes to a district free speech policy that came under fire after a student was stopped from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day.

Robert Van Tuinen, an Army veteran, was stopped from handing out the copies Sept. 17. Video of Modesto Junior College security and administrative staff telling him he needed to get permission days in advance and stand in a small concrete area drew national attention and a flood of negative calls and emails.

Van Tuinen filed a lawsuit with the backing of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, saying students’ free speech rights were being trampled and demanding the district change its policy. A stipulated delay in the case gave the district until Feb. 24 for its answer. At the time, Chancellor Joan Smith said policy changes were moving through governance committees.

The draft policy begins by proclaiming “Yosemite Community College District wholly supports student free speech and supports every individual’s right to express his or her views. YCCD supports civil discourse as a fundamental pillar of education.”

It eliminates a reference to “free speech areas” at each campus but replaces that language with: “In areas of the colleges of the district designated as limited public forums,” continuing with existing language on establishing procedures to “reasonably regulate” the exercise of free expression. See the proposed policy with this story at www.modbee.com.

The proposed policy change is a first reading and will be voted on at a later date. Procedural changes do not take board action and were discussed at an earlier meeting. Those changes can also be found with this story at www.modbee.com.

In other business, trustees will consider a new contract with its teachers and curriculum changes for 2014-15 at Modesto Junior College and Columbia College.

The Yosemite Community College District board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district boardroom, 2201 Blue Gum Ave., Modesto. Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

Schools: Modesto Junior College Cases: Modesto Junior College: Students Barred from Distributing Constitutions on Constitution Day