Law Update

Mass. Violated Rights of Disinvited Speaker

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A Massachusetts court has ruled that state education officials infringed the rights of the well-known education author Alfie Kohn by objecting to his planned speech at a 2001 conference being underwritten by a state-administered federal grant.

Alfie Kohn

Conference organizers had invited Mr. Kohn, the author of The Schools Our Children Deserve and other books, to deliver the keynote address and offered him a $5,000 stipend, according to court papers.

But Susan M. Barker, then the associate commissioner of education for charter schools and the administrator of the federal grant for the Massachusetts Department of Education, objected to his planned speech, titled “The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools.”

She wrote a critical e-mail to a conference organizer, and Mr. Kohn’s invitation was rescinded.

Though the organizers still paid Mr. Kohn the $5,000 from private funds, he and several conference attendees sued the officials for alleged violations of their free-speech rights.

Ruling July 28 on motions for summary judgment, Judge Hiller B. Zobel of the state superior court in Cambridge, Mass., wrote that Ms. Barker’s e-mail “makes it clear that the government (through the DOE) was attempting to dictate what Mr. Kohn could say and what his prospective listeners could hear.”

The judge has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs’ request for relief, which includes lawyer’s fees and an order barring state officials from using grant money and other powers to suppress viewpoints with which they disagree.

Vol. 26, Issue 01, Page 18

Published in Print: August 30, 2006, as Mass. Violated Rights of Disinvited Speaker
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