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The Becker Public School District is now facing a lawsuit from a teaching union over a "gag order" that bars staff from saying anything negative about the district to those who don't work in it.

Education Minnesota announced its affiliate in the district – Becker Education Association – filed a lawsuit in Sherburne County District Court, requesting that the new communications plan approved by the school board in May not be enforced. 

The lawsuit claims the plan approved by the board violates the free speech provision of Minnesota's constitution and several state laws. 

“Defendant district has adopted a policy that is antithetical to the values of public education, which encourage personal growth and debate,” the lawsuit states. “However, it is most relevant to the work of this Court that the policies are antithetical to the Minnesota Constitution and a range of Minnesota statutes.”

The policy prevents educators from offering anything other than "positive" communications to people who are not employed by the district. The lawsuit also claims the restraint of discussing student matters "is so broad" that it would restrict staff members from complying with Minnesota's Maltreatment of Minors statute.

It would potentially subject students to "uninterrupted child abuse," creating a situation where teachers and other school staff would have to pick between their employment and "statutory obligation as mandated reporters."

An example the lawsuit provides: 

"Any employee who offered comment on the effects of staff cuts on student outcomes in the District would be insubordinate and subject to discipline if a member of the press or public was present at the time."

In addition, the lawsuit claims that it wouldn't allow educators to discuss personnel issues at school board meetings if everyone present didn't work for the school district.

The co-presidents of Becker Education Association — Jason Baune and Beny Pany — are not commenting further to the media, because they say it could lead to them being subject of disciplinary action under the policy, according to a news release. Baune and Pany filed the lawsuit against the district.

"Educators should be able to speak the truth about what's happening in their schools to parents and the rest of their communities," Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said in the release. "This gag order, and policies like it, are unacceptable. Our union will resist them everywhere."

The same union is also considering legal action against another proposed policy in Becker that seeks to restrict students from learning the history of racism and LGBTQ-related topics within the district.

The policy, the proposal of which was criticized, states that classrooms would need to be free of any "personal bias" or materials "favoring any particular group, political ideology, favored class or promoting controversial issues." 

This comes amid a wider push from right-wing activists nationwide to restrict the teaching of and access to materials relating to race, sex, and LGBTQ+ people.

After the policy was proposed, the ACLU of Minnesota and Education Minnesota each sent the district a letter, stating the policy interferes with the First Amendment.

The school board chose to delay the vote during a meeting held on Aug. 1, saying a legal review was needed to go forward. No meeting has been held since.

The Becker Public Schools District issued the following statement to Bring Me The News:

“We have been made aware of recent court filings in connection with a legal action challenging certain aspects of the School District’s new communication plan. We disagree with the claims and assertions being made in those filings, and believe the lawsuit misconstrues the purpose and effect of language in the School District’s plan. Because the judicial system is the more appropriate forum in which to address these issues, the School District will respond through the legal proceedings before the Court.”

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