United States District Court Rules Against Supervisory Union on Parent’s First Amendment Claim

The United States District Court for the District of Vermont has found that a Vermont school supervisory union violated the U.S. Constitution when it issued no-trespass notices against a student’s parent. In Cyr v. Addison Rutland Supervisory Union, the Court found violations of the First Amendment right to free expression and the Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process, both due to the banning of a parent from attending school board meetings.

The case involved Marcel and Veronica Cyr, whose two children attended a school in the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union (“ARSU”). Mr. Cyr was described as a large man who spoke loudly at meetings where he frequently raised concerns about his son’s education and other issues related to the school. School officials cited behavior they found threatening and intimidating, such as Mr. Cyr’s driving by the Principal’s office and honking and giving “the finger.” The Superintendent reported receiving a “professional opinion” that Mr. Cyr could be a threat to the school. Citing Mr. Cyr’s conduct, ARSU issued notices of trespass against Mr. Cyr, banning him from all property owned by ARSU for a two year period. Because of the notices against trespass, Mr. Cyr was unable to attend several school board meetings which were held on school property.

The Court rejected Mr. Cyr’s claim that he had a constitutional right to attend school board meetings, holding that there is no First Amendment right to attend municipal meetings. However, the Court found that singling him out and categorically banning him from all ARSU property was too broad of a restriction on Mr. Cyr’s freedom of expression, and that ARSU had failed to provide adequate alternative channels of communication.

The Court also ruled that ARSU had deprived Mr. Cyr of procedural due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court premised this ruling on a determination that Mr. Cyr had a strong interest in attending school board meetings. Because there was no protocol or meaningful opportunity to contest or appeal the no-trespasses, the Court found ARSU deprived him of a protected interest without due process. For additional information on school district and supervisory union governance matters, please contact Dina Atwood or Bob Fletcher at Stitzel, Page & Fletcher, P.C.