RPS board declares Black Lives Matter 'government speech'

Rachel Mills
Updated: April 27, 2021 10:11 PM
Created: April 27, 2021 09:42 PM

(ABC 6 News) - The Rochester Public Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to make several phrases and images, including "Black Lives Matter," government speech, meaning the school can't be held liable for allowing those views while not allowing opposing views. 

"So here with adopting the messages that you're adopting as government speech, you're saying these are the messages that we're communicating as a school district and by doing that we're not also creating a forum to allow other types of speech to enter the forum," John Edison, the RPS board attorney said.  

By declaring certain phrases involving the Black Lives Matter movement as government speech, the board is protecting itself from legal action because it is allowing one type of speech, but not any speech in opposition to those phrases.

But it's not just "Black lives matter," in Rochester schools, speech concerning "Brown lives matter," "Indigenous lives matter, "Stop Asian hate", as well as the pride flag, are now all declared official government speech.

"It is not about telling students what to think and what they can and cannot say, but it does give our district and our staff the authority to speak out about these lives that matter," Jean Marvin, RPS board chair, said.  

Rumors circulated online suggesting RPS was asking teachers to remove "Black Lives Matter" messages from classrooms. That's why the board took action - passing the formal resolution.

"I feel incredibly sorry that anyone had to feel that way and that there was any question of our commitment to equity in that respect," Dr. Jessica Garcia, RPS board director, said. 

Another key issue on the agenda was whether to renew the district's contract with the Rochester Police Department for another year. RPD provides five officers to the district to work in schools as community resource officers. 

"They may not keep us safer because they keep the shooter away, but because they know our students and they are able to de-escalate bad situations before they become situations that other law enforcement needs to get involved in," Marvin said.  

Some board members opposed having armed officers interacting with students.

"We're offering an easement for those who might not have been involved with the criminal legal system otherwise. We're facilitating that pipeline," Garcia said.  

The board did narrowly vote to renew its school resource officer contract for another year, but some board members said it's only until they can find another solution.


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