KOIN 6 News

Gladstone School District Faces Lawsuit over Social Media, Board Meeting Policies

February 27, 2024

(KOIN 6 News)—Gladstone School District is facing a lawsuit over its social media and public meeting policies after one mother says the district suppressed her right to free speech online and during public meetings, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by parent Glenda Scherer—who is represented by the Liberty Justice Center law firm—against Gladstone School District, Superintendent Bob Stewart, and School Board Chair Tracy Oberg Grant.

The lawsuit challenges some of the district’s policies, including screening comments before a public meeting and prohibiting comments from mentioning district staff, including staff titles.

Additionally, Scherer claims her First Amendment rights were violated after the district restricted her access to a parent Facebook group and banned her from attending school board meetings unless she receives permission from the Superintendent’s office.

“I want my voice to be heard not just to advocate for my own children, but to advocate for all the unheard parents across the country who are being unconstitutionally silenced by school boards,” Scherer said.

The lawsuit stems from March 2020 when the school district announced it would transition to remote learning.

According to court documents, Scherer was concerned about how remote learning would impact her daughter and special-needs son and voiced her concerns on social media and in public board meetings.

After the district created a Facebook group for parents around September 2020, Scherer said she tried to post about an Oregon Department of Education program called Limited In-Person Instruction. However, the district applied the post-approval feature to her account, which stopped her comments from appearing on the page unless they were approved, the lawsuit alleges.

Scherer additionally claims she was reprimanded after calling for the return of in-person instruction in a Facebook group post.

In response to her post, the district administrator of the page sent her a message stating, “I am removing this post because it is not helping parents. We are all doing our best to make distance learning work. If you cannot be positive and supportive of parents and school staff, you will be removed from the group,’” according to court documents.

Around November 2020, Scherer was temporarily blocked from interacting with the district’s Twitter account, and until at least February 2024, she was blocked from tagging the district on her three Facebook accounts: Glenda.Scherer, OregonKidsFirst, and unheardparent, court documents say.

In January 2024, Scherer was prohibited from discussing the district’s “failure to discipline an employee who was investigated for abusing her son, and who reportedly screamed profanities at her offsite,” the lawsuit claims.

In an emailed response, School Board Chair Grant suggested Scherer should edit her comment because the district does not allow comments to reference employees by their title or to refer to events that did not “occur during regular business hours,” according to court documents.

The Liberty Justice Center sent a letter to the district on January 29, arguing Scherer’s rights were violated and asked the district to bring its social media and public comment policies into compliance with the First Amendment.

In response to the letter, the Center says Gladstone School District repealed its requirement for speakers to submit comments for screening and is willing to allow Scherer to attend meetings unless she does not treat board members with “respect,” Liberty Justice Center claims.

The Center says the concessions are not enough, arguing the district did not lift its limitations on her online speech and did not reverse its ban on discussing current or former school employees.

“The First Amendment prohibits officials at any level of government from censoring the free speech of those they disagree with,” attorney Dean McGee said in a Liberty Justice Center press release. “By fighting for Glenda, we are proud to also fight for the constitutional rights of parents and educational advocates across the country.”

Gladstone School District told KOIN 6 News it does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit seeks a ruling to overturn the school’s policy on screening comments and banning comments mentioning district staff. Scherer also seeks a ruling determining her First Amendment rights were violated because she was banned from the public school board meetings and restricted from tagging the district in social media posts.