Parents removed from Temecula Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees’ meetings say their free speech rights were violated.
California Central District Judge Jesus Bernal will consider placing a preliminary injunction halting the board’s meeting removal policy on Feb. 12.
The parents’ Dec. 21 lawsuit says that Board President Joseph Komrosky has thrown people out of the meeting in violation of their protected speech.
During school board meetings, Komrosky has said
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Parents Upneet Dhaliwal and Julie Geary bring the suit, with representation from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the First Amendment Coalition.
Komrosky removed Geary from board meetings held July 18 and Aug. 9, and Dhaliwal from a meeting Sept. 1.
At the July 18 meeting, public commenter Chauncey Killens had said, “Pharoah Gavin Newsom…pride and arrogance is why I destroyed Pharaoh of Egypt and his army, and if necessary, I will destroy you and your woke army.” After Killens left the lectern, and before the next speaker came up, spectators began speaking and clapping. Geary, sitting in the audience, asked Komrosky, ‘What is this? I don’t understand. Are we allowed to threaten people?’”
Komrosky expelled her immediately. As she was leaving, Board Member Allison Barclay said, “She has a valid point. That definitely sounded like a threat.” Komrosky did not reply.
Geary was expelled Aug. 9 after speaking to the person sitting next to her. The complaint says she was not given a first warning.
The suit mentions other cases: also at the July 18 meeting, Komrosky expelled public commenter Tim Thompson while his three minutes to speak were still going. The commenter had called Board Member Steven Schwartz a communist.
At the same meeting, Komrosky expelled teacher Jennifer Scharf, after she used her public speaking time to call Board Member Danny Gonzalez a homophobe and asked for Komrosky to warn members of the audience who interrupted her.
The homophobe comment was in regard to Gonzalez’ vote to reject instructional material that mentioned Harvey Milk, who served as the first openly gay elected official as a San Francisco supervisor.
Scharf had not been given a warning. “Where’s my yellow card? You said I would get a warning,” Scharf said before her mic was cut.
At a May 16 meeting, Komrosky expelled Monica Lacombe. He had pointed at them, and said they had a warning, the complaint says. Lacombe responded by saying, “Don’t do that,” and Komrosky ordered her out.
At a June 13 meeting, Komrosky gave Deon Hairston a warning when the audience booed in response to the firing of long-time Supervisor Jodi McClay.
“I, alone, was targeted by Dr. Komrosky in the closed session. Then, unprovoked, he gave me a warning during the meeting. It is becoming more apparent that your actions seem racially motivated, and you don’t like Black people,” said Hairston, who is Black.
Hairston had previously spoken out against the board’s new policy on history, known as a “Critical Race Theory ban.”
The suit brings four causes of action: violation of the First Amendment, violation of California’s Constitutional right to free speech, violation of their civil rights and violations of California’s open government law, The Brown Act.
The Brown Act allows presiding members of boards to remove an individual or groups, but only grants that authority if they are willfully disrupting the meeting, and if the meeting can only continue with them removed. The presiding member must first warn the individual that their behavior is disrupting the meeting and that they can be removed if they don’t stop. The Brown Act defines disrupting as “engaging in behavior during a meeting of a legislative body that actually disrupts, disturbs, impedes, or renders infeasible the orderly conduct of the meeting.”
The Board of Trustees changed their removal policies in a 3-2 vote Aug. 9. The new regulations establish the following to be considered a disruption:
- Use of hate speech, obscenity and similar conduct;
- Loud, profane and abusive language;
- Speaking, whistling, clapping, stomping feet and other conduct interrupting recognized speakers;
- Use of force and threats of force;
- Efforts to engage other attendees for the purpose of creating a disruption;
- Display of signs or other large objects designed to block attendees’ view or participation meeting; and
- Refusal to comply with directives to comply with rules of conduct.
The board displays a poster that says any conduct that disrupts or is likely to disrupt the meeting is grounds for removal, the complaint says.
Although Komrosky was named a defendant, he was removed from the case Jan. 4.
The Temecula Valley Unified School Board has also been sued by students who claim the board’s curriculum restriction known as the CRT ban is unconstitutional. Hearings on a motion to strike, a demurrer and a preliminary injunction are scheduled for Jan. 24.
Jonathan Markovitz, Peter Eliasberg and Alyssa Morones of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, along with David Loy and Khrystan Policarpio of the First Amendment Coalition, represent the plaintiffs.
Attorneys for the school board have not yet been announced.
Case No.l 5:23-cv-02605
Read the complaint here.