Parents at School Board Meetings in California Now Face Criminalization

In a move that sent shockwaves through the state, California is on the brink of passing a controversial bill that could potentially criminalize parents who passionately voice their concerns at school board meetings.

This alarming development is not only a threat to free speech but also a direct assault on the democratic process.

The bill in question, SB 596, ominously titled “School Employees: Protection,” is currently making its way through the legislative process.

Introduced by state Senator Portantino, a Democrat from San Fernando Valley, the bill seeks to amend an existing law that penalizes anyone who threatens or harasses a school employee during their duties.

The proposed amendments have raised eyebrows and sparked outrage among critics who see it as an attempt to silence dissenting voices.

Under the current law, such offenses are punishable by a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

However, Portantino, who has a background in education and receives a significant portion of his campaign contributions from the labor sector, including teacher unions, believes this isn’t enough.

His proposed amendments to the California Code have been interpreted by many as an attempt to intimidate the public.

The most contentious aspect of SB 596 is its expansion of the definition of “substantial disorder” to include any meeting of school boards, charter school boards, county boards of education, and even the State Board of Education itself.

Furthermore, the bill broadens the definition of “school employee” to encompass any official or employees of these boards, and their families.

However, the bill fails to provide a clear definition of what constitutes “substantial disorder.”

It does, however, redefine “harassment,” replacing the previous definition which included actions like “following,” “stalking,” or making harassing phone calls or correspondence to an individual.

The new definition is vague and open-ended, referring to “a pattern of conduct composed of two or more acts…evidencing a continuity of purpose.”

This ambiguous language raises serious questions. For instance, if a parent questions a principal or a teacher more than once, resulting in hurt feelings, does that constitute a continuity of purpose?

The bill also alters the definition of harassment, replacing the “credible threat of violence… annoys, or harasses,” with “torments, or terrorizes.”

Critics argue that this bill is a thinly veiled attempt to suppress dissent and control the narrative at school board meetings. They warn it could lead to a situation where passionate parents and community partners who dare to challenge the status quo are criminalized.

In conclusion, the passage of SB 596 could set a dangerous precedent, not just in California, but across the nation. It is a stark reminder of the need for vigilance in protecting our democratic rights and freedoms.

This article appeared in The State Today and has been published here with permission.

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Written by Western Reader

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