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FIRE ramps up pressure on New Jersey school board to stop suppressing free speech during public comment periods

Screenshot of the Teaneck Board of Education meeting on Oct. 18, 2023

Teaneck Board of Education Vice President Victoria Fisher (left) cuts off a person from speaking during the public comment period of the Oct. 18, 2023 meeting of the Teaneck Board of Education.

A battle is underway in the heart of Teaneck, New Jersey, where a local school board has shown a troubling pattern of speech suppression disguised as decorum. 

Citizens who dared voice critiques during public comment periods of board meetings have been interrupted, muzzled, and even threatened with removal. 


It all started last year, following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent ground invasion of Gaza. During the public comment period at the Teaneck Board of Education’s next meeting, the board allowed comments supporting the superintendent's statement on the October 7 attack but repeatedly cut off many of those challenging the statement. In doing so, the board selectively enforced vague decorum rules. 

The board’s actions were not just arbitrary. They were discriminatory and unconstitutional. 

As FIRE told the board in multiple letters, this isn’t how public comment periods are supposed to work. Citizens must have the opportunity to openly express their opinions, share concerns, and hold their officials accountable during public meetings. Unfortunately, the board continues to maintain policies that prohibit constituents from speaking freely at board meetings.

Although the board can legitimately curtail some speech at public meetings — such as threats of violence or speech that disrupts the meeting — it must not impose vague and easily abused restrictions on “vulgar,” “inflammatory,” “abusive,” or “disparaging” language in the name of decorum. As FIRE has said before, Americans have a First Amendment right to criticize government officials during public comment periods, even if officials find the criticism “disparaging” or “inflammatory.”

Protestor confronted by police at the Oct. 18, 2023 Teaneck School Board meeting
Teaneck resident Keith Kaplan is confronted by police after being cut off during the public comment period of the Oct. 18, 2023 meeting of the Teaneck Board of Education.

Last week, FIRE sent its third letter to the board urging it to align its public comment policies with the First Amendment and ensure citizens are free to comment at board meetings without unconstitutional censorship. 

Now, you can join us in urging the board to respect its residents’ First Amendment rights. 

Public participation in these meetings is crucial for fostering transparency, accountability, and community engagement in our education system. Let’s stand together and ensure that every citizen’s voice is heard loud and clear in Teaneck, New Jersey. 

Join FIRE in calling on the Teaneck Board of Education to stop censoring its constituents and start respecting their First Amendment rights!


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