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Hempstead Parent Sues School Board For Denying Him Access To School Property

March 8, 2005 — The Nassau Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the Hempstead School Board for denying the constitutional rights of a Hempstead man who wants to attend school board meetings. The Board has denied Ronsard Mazile access to school property, including open school board meetings and parent-teacher conferences, without any due process and in retaliation for his open criticism of school board management.

In announcing the civil suit, chapter director Barbara Bernstein said, “Mr. Mazile is doing nothing more than trying to call his elected representatives to public accountability. We don’t punish people without presenting them with evidence and allowing them to defend themselves. Democratic government only works when it operates in the sunlight. That’s why we have a Bill of Rights.”

Frustrated after years of criticizing the Hempstead school board for mismanaging both finances and education, Mazile joined a parents’ group that sought the removal of the board. When he tried to serve the board members individually with a petition, as required by Albany, at a November open board meeting, Superintendent Susan Johnson ordered him to leave and not to return to school property, an order confirmed by her letter threatening arrest. When Mazile did try to attend the January board meeting, he was escorted out by two police officers.

Mazile’s frustration with the Hempstead school board increased last year when the board fired the then-superintendent Nathaniel Clay and appointed Susan Johnson. In March when the board went into prolonged executive session, Mazile’s attempt to find out when they would revert to a public meeting resulted in an accusation that he hit a board member when he tried to open the door, an accusation he denies. Johnson’s letter cites the March and November meetings as the reason for her ban “until further notice,” adding that if he tries to return, he will be “arrested for trespassing.”

NYCLU cooperating attorney E. Christopher Murray remarked on filing the lawsuit, “School officials, like all public officials, cannot arbitrarily punish citizens for publicly criticizing them by banishing them from school property. These are core principles we are defending.”

The suit claims Mazile has been denied his First Amendment right to express an opinion at a public meeting and to use legal process to petition the Commissioner of Education; his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and his right to due process to determine any misconduct, all under the U.S. Constitution; and his right to attend open meetings of public bodies under the NY State Open Meetings Law. The Article 78 petition was filed March 7, 2005 in Nassau County Supreme Court.

Click here to read the NYCLU’s lawsuit.

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