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A bill floating in the California state legislature has received intense scrutiny by proponents of First Amendment rights, who are concerned that parents in the Golden State’s school system could be barred from voicing their opinions about their children’s education.
The bill, SB 596, was introduced by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Calif., and proposes that “any parent, guardian, or other person whose conduct in a place where a school employee is required to be in the course of the employee’s duties materially disrupts classwork or extracurricular activities or involves substantial disorder is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $500, nor more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year…”
According to Fox News, this bill would be an expansion of a preexisting law that barred parents from disrupting classroom activities and extend it to “off-campus activities.” In this context, a school board meeting could be considered an off-campus activity.
This bill comes after Californians have been pushing back on curriculum in school districts like MVUSD (Murrietta Valley), where parents supported the passage of a new policy that requires the school to notify guardians if their child identifies as transgender.
If SB 596 passes, it is conceivable that speaking up at a school board meeting in California could potentially be defined as a misdemeanor. The amended bill itself states:
“Any parent, guardian, or other person whose conduct in a place where a school employee is required to be in the course of the school employee’s duties materially disrupts classwork or extracurricular activities or involves substantial disorder, including substantial disorder at any meeting of the governing board of a school district, the governing body of a charter school, a county board of education, or the state board, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
California’s beleaguered school system has already gone through the ringer in the wake of the Covid pandemic with Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., at the helm of the state’s Covid-related policies.
Schools in California faced astringent masking policies and Newsom’s administration pushed hard for a statewide K-12 vaccine mandate.
Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif., one of Newsom’s biggest critics, noted on X, “California schools, by the way, continue to have among the worst student learning outcomes and widest achievement gaps in the country.”
Per Fox News, Senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, Sarah Parshall Perry, told the Daily Signal of the bill, “I find it curious that there’s no definition of ‘substantial’ or ‘disruption’ within the proposed text.”
According to the text of the bill itself, “course of conduct” would mean a “pattern of conduct composed of two or more acts occurring over a period of time,” and “harassment” would be defined as “willful” behavior that is directed at a specific person that “seriously alarms, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”
Further, the bill itself stated that verbal, written, or electronic communication could also be construed to school employees as a “credible threat.”