Mardia Adams recieves her diploma during the 2019 Appleton North High School commencement ceremony on Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Appleton, Wis.Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.(Photo: William Glasheen, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
APPLETON - The Appleton Area School District's Board of Education gave its blessing Monday to new guidelines that give the superintendent broad authority to oversee the content of speeches at major district events.
The board voted5-2 against a motion to replace the administrative guidelines, which require speakers to submit their speeches ahead of time and swear under oath to stay on script, with a school board-created policy, as called for by critics who said the new guidelines are unconstitutional and give the superintendent too much power.
The board's decision comes nearly six months after the Rev. Alvin Dupree, a school board member, delivered what some decried as a Christian-themed speech at North High School's graduation ceremony. The speech provoked community debate over freedom of speech and what kinds of messages about religion are appropriate in a public school setting.
In his speech, Dupree, founder and minister of Family First Ministries,said his source of strength is his faith and relationship with Jesus Christ and invited fellow Christians to applaud in agreement.
Dupree also told students to"never succumb to the pressure of being politically correct" or "another man's norm," led a moment of silence for a student who died before graduating with the class and closed his speech by changing the district's prepared statement of "best wishes" to "God bless."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based national nonprofit that seeks to preserve the constitutional separation of church and state, and a group of 29 Appleton North graduates and students wrote letters to the district in objection ofDupree's speech.
In setting the new guidelines, the district administration worked with its attorney, Kirk Strang, who has expertise in educational and constitutional law, to develop a set of guidelines for future speakers at major district-sponsored events.
Strang said that "there is no conclusion whatsoever" in the guidelines that Dupree's comments in June were constitutional or unconstitutional, and that the intent is to "prevent surprises" with future speeches.
The guidelines, as the students and FFRF requested, require speeches to be written and submitted to the superintendent at least two weeks in advance. Speakers also must disclose whether they intend to wear jewelry, clothing or accessoriesthat could be understood to communicate a message to the audience.
Speakers must swear in writing, with a notary, and under oath that they will deliver the speech as they wrote it and not wear materials that hadn't previously been approved.
Though the guidelines are not a mandate enforcing them is at the full discretion of the superintendent. The superintendent may "take remedial action, in his/her discretion, to address any behavior exhibited by a speaker during his/her speech, as the Superintendent deems necessary or appropriate" if a speaker refuses or fails to deliver a speech as written, according to the document.
Deb Truyman andDupree voted to create a new school board policy for speech review, citing concerns over how limiting the guidelines seem, as well as thelevel of discretion and authority they give the superintendent.
"I trust the superintendent to make the decisions," Truyman said,"but it just seems so very, very restricting (to speakers)."
But other board members disagreed, emphasizing they can supervise the superintendent's use of the speaker guidelines and that the guidelines are needed to prevent the district from becoming involved in costly litigation that would fall on Appleton taxpayers' dime.
Leah Olson(Photo: Courtesy of Leah Olson)
"The superintendent is an employee of the board and, in a way, you could see us as employees of the citizens of Appleton because they vote for us," said school board member Leah Olson. "There's always a level of oversight in public schools."
While some thought Dupree's graduation speech violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which prohibits the establishment of religion by a governmental body, others believe the new guidelines may violatefreedom of speech.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a Milwaukee-based conservative law firm, called the guidelines "troubling" and said it may lead to "unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination" in a previous interview with The Post-Crescent.
Several community members expressed concerns over the policy on Monday, including Polly Olsen, a Green Bay woman who came to the attention of President Donald Trump this year after she filed a lawsuit against Northeast Wisconsin Technical College for violating the First Amendment when its officials ordered her to stop handing out Valentine's Day cards containing messages from the Bible, including "Jesus Loves You!" and "God is Love!"
A federal judge ruled that the college had violated the First Amendment when it prevented her from handing out the cards.
"The policy that I sued my school over is very similar to the one that was brought to attention today," Olsen told the board. "According to my court case, this (policy) is unconstitutional."
Judy Baseman(Photo: Courtesy of the Appleton Area School District, Courtesy of the Appleton Area School District)
Appleton schools Superintendent Judy Baseman said, above all, the guidelines are intended to protect and respect the constitutional rights of all district students, faculty and staff, as well as the general public. And, Baseman said, the guidelines have"provided a good resource" to the administrative team since they were implemented three months ago.
"We have never applied them in vacuum," Baseman told the board. "We have consulted attorneys when appropriate; we have not had any issues with using these appropriately.Having the ability to analyze each situation is critical to allowing us to follow constitutional law."
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Dupree said he willspeak and be who he isregardless of guidelines. He said he's always been transparent about who he is, noting that his name on the school board ballot was "Pastor Alvin Dupree."
"The only thing Im apologetic about was the longevity of my speech 10 minutes. Too long," he said. "Ive made it clear: You get me,you also get my black skin andyou get my love for Jesus Christ."
Contact Samantha West at 920-996-7207 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BySamanthaWest.
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