Ga. High Court Strikes Verbal-Abuse-of-Educators Law; Backs School Gun Limits

By Mark Walsh — November 01, 2016 2 min read
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It was a busy day Monday for the Georgia Supreme Court and school issues.

In one decision, the state’s highest court unanimously struck down a state statute that criminalized “upbraiding, insulting, or abusing” a public school teacher, administrator, or bus driver in the presence of a student while on a school bus or school premises. The measure was overly broad in violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, the court said.

In another Oct. 31 ruling, the court held that a Georgia law that prohibits firearms on school property takes precedence over one passed around the same time that says a person licensed to carry firearms may carry them into school safety zones.

In the speech case, West v. The State, Michael Antonio West was charged under the “upbraiding” statute after he reportedly boarded a school bus in 2015 and verbally abused the driver over the alleged bullying of his child by other students.

The Georgia Supreme Court agreed to take up the case after West lost a pretrial motion to strike down the law.

Among the aspects of the law that the court found troubling was that “the statute does not proscribe all speech that might be boisterous or disruptive,” the opinion says.

Instead, the law “prohibits only that speech directed at public school officials which may be perceived as negative or unfavorable,” the court said. “The practical effect of the plain language of [the statute] is that any person—may it be a parent, school system employee, or concerned citizen while on school premises or a school bus—who dares to speak critically to school officials at any time in the presence of minors must leave the premises when so ordered by a school official or face arrest and prosecution for a misdemeanor.”

“We agree with West that this statute, though perhaps well intentioned, neither regulates unprotected speech nor is appropriately tailored to meet its intended objective and is therefore overbroad,” the court concluded.

Gun Law

In Inc. v. Code Revision Commission, a gun rights group sought to compel a state panel to reinstate a statute that authorized licensed gun owners onto school property.

That measure was signed in to law by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 22, 2014. The next day, Deal signed HB 60, a bill that made it unlawful for any person to have a firearm “within a school safety zone” unless that person was dropping off or picking up a student.

The Code Revision Commission determined that the two measures were in conflict, and it gave effect to the school weapons prohibition because it became law later.

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the two laws “are in irreconcilable conflict.”

“These provisions are contradictory in that they address the same circumstances, but one expressly authorizes the carrying of a firearm and the other expressly criminalizes such conduct, albeit with a limited exception,” the court said. “Accordingly, the two statutes cannot stand together and the provisions of [the first measure] related to the carrying of firearms in a school safety zone did not survive the subsequent enactment of HB 60.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.