Public School Board Member Threatens Boss Of Woman Who Spoke Out Against School Book Banning

from the it's-free-speech-all-the-way-down dept

The VC Star has a slightly bizarre article about a school board trustee of the Conejo Valley Unified School District (in Southern California) named Mike Dunn, who apparently was upset about a speech given by a mother at a board meeting. That mother -- Jessica Weihe -- also blogs on the site AnonymousMommy.com (though as far as I can tell, she was not "anonymous" in that people in the community appeared to know who she was). Weihe gave a perhaps slightly rambling speech at a recent board meeting. The details appear to be somewhat specific to some district policies on handling "mature" books, but suffice it to say that it appears that Dunn was arguing against certain books being on the curriculum because he felt their content was inappropriate. Among the books that there was some controversy about was Sherman Alexie's quite well known book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Weihe's speech mocked Dunn for having tried to get it off the curriculum, and accuses him of not having read the book, and over-reacting to why it might be a problem. Here's a snippet from what she said:

Unlike Mr. Dunn, I actually read the book in its entirety. In fact, I led an online book reading of Part-Time Indian, in which 40 local parents participated in, so that we could be better informed as to the concern regarding this literature selection before its approval, concern which Mr. Dunn raised at a June board meeting over the phrase “kicked him in the balls.” I have to say, I was quite disappointed to find no salacious material! You all had me bracing to clutch my pearls! Mr. Dunn, who cannot and has not confirmed he actually read the book in entirety, (I mean, he couldn’t even find time to attend board governance training) falsely and inappropriately asserted in a public letter to the Acorn that approving this book was akin to “child abuse” and that it was “pornographic” in nature. Aside from noting how reprehensible it is to assert that our curriculum committee and teachers want to impose pornography on our students and take part in an act of child abuse, if this were to be true, I find it curious it’s not asterisked as such here. It’s because it’s not pornographic, nor, as Mr. Dunn would have our community believe, child abuse.

There's a lot more in the talk, but that gives you the basic idea. Dunn, not surprisingly, wasn't happy about this. So... rather than respond or give his position, he decided to call Weihe's boss and threaten to try to shame their company if she continued to say similar things about the school board or its members.

If you can't read that, it says:

Scott,
I am told that you approve of the political activities of Jessica Wiehl (anomymous mommie).

Every time she slanders or libels the school district or a school board member during public comments at a board meeting, I am going to respond that Jessica she works for Mustang Marketing and that you support her opinions.

Her boss -- Scott Harris -- responded pretty quickly, and did so pretty thoroughly:

If you can't read that, it says:

Mike,

Thank you for the courtesy of putting your threat in writing. However, before you go off half-cocked and wrong--again--and while you often have little apparent interest in the truth or facts, allow me to correct you in advance of you making good on your threats.

I support Jessica's right to her views and to her expressing them. Her views are her own, not mine or my companies. If you'd like to point out that I support community involvement, community activity and freedom of speech--please do. You can open and close each meeting with that and hang a poster over your head that states the same thing. Heck, I'll pay for the poster, if that helps.

If, as you have threatened, you choose to falsely point out that I support all her views, none of which she shares with me in advance of the meetings, I am putting you on notice that that is a false statement.

Again, so that I'm clear, supporting Jessica's right to her opinions and expressing them in a public forum (and I do!), is far different from me supporting her opinions, which I may or may not, depending on her actual positions. I hope I've made this clear enough for you to understand.

And since I'm not convinced that you understand the definition of slander, I have included it here. I think if you take the time to read this - and to follow through with your threat - you'll see you've exposed yourself - and the CVUSD - to a lawsuit.

n. oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more person an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed. Slander is a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis for a lawsuit.

Mike, have a terrific Thursday and maybe you can limit your threatening emails to just me, at least for today=)

Scott Harris

A number of other emails have since been sent, with Dunn "suggesting" that he and Harris go to mediation (I'm not quite clear what they have to mediate, but...). Harris responds to the mediation request by pointing out that there's nothing to mediate, and he's happy to meet if Dunn wishes to apologize (and, reminding Dunn that he supports Wiehl's First Amendment rights and that doesn't mean he agrees with her opinions).

Either way: what a mess. Having a public official make threats like that certainly appear to be attempts to stifle speech, which would be a flat out First Amendment violation. Some people might respond that public shaming, or even agitating to get someone fired, is using "more speech" against speech someone doesn't like -- and in many cases, that's true. But when one is a public official, the calculus changes, because it becomes government attempting to suppress speech. From Okwedy v. Molinari:

A public-official defendant who threatens to employ coercive state power to stifle protected speech violates a plaintiff's First Amendment rights, regardless of whether the threatened punishment comes in the form of the use (or, misuse) of the defendant's direct regulatory or decisionmaking authority over the plaintiff, or in some less-direct form.

That seems fairly on point.

As for the cross claims of defamation... neither seem particularly strong, though Harris would probably have a slightly stronger argument. The only real statements of fact that I see in Wiehl's original speech was about whether or not Dunn had read the book, but she lays out her reasons for thinking so (asking him to quote the problematic parts and him refusing to, as well as his non-answer about having read the book). Besides, it's a tough lift to argue that saying someone hadn't read a book is defamatory. As for Harris's defamation threat in the other direction, obviously it would depend on what Dunn actually said, but it is at least true that he would have knowledge that his initial claim (of Harris supporting Wiehl's positions) is false, and that could make it a bit dicier for Dunn. The fact that Wiehl is also claiming that someone left a voicemail at her employer's office saying they would no longer do business with the company and would be telling all their friends not to do business with them (implying because of this) at least presents evidence of reputational harm done.

No matter what, though, this is a really bad look for Dunn. Not just in trying to stop high school kids from reading, but then trying to suppress the speech of someone who criticized him for blocking the book. Dunn, as a public official, has the right to speak his mind, but not to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public. Those are both pretty fundamental to the First Amendment.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 9:45am

    No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

    By the way, you keep asserting that as Right of mega-corporations, so what is your case or statute basis?

    And, I'm ON-TOPIC because "free speech" is a large topic, and being banned IS the topic, here. Google has only about a billion times more power to suppress speech than this one person, yet Masnick claims it can control or ban persons, shunt them off to tiny outlets, for no cause at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 9:56am

      Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

      I'm not saying I agree with Google denying access, but it is within it's right as a private entity. The First Amendment only limits the government. It does not place the same restriction on private citizens. That may be immoral or unethical, but its what the law says.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:08am

      Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

      Google's platform and the public school system are nowhere close to the same thing. Nice try with the whataboutism though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      tatatata, 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:08am

      Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

      The only thing you're ON is a haitus from your meds. Google? Bitch, please.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:24am

      Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

      Off topic (Mike's ban-hammer) and a troll post, downvoting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:31am

      Now this is comedy.

      I haven’t seen someone reach this hard for a joke since Family Guy did the Conway Twitty cutaway gag.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Machin Shin, 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:47am

      Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

      The difference is actually painfully simple. The first amendment says the GOVERNMENT can't suppress speech. Last I checked Google is not the government, they are a private company.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 11:38am

        Re: Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

        Refuse to host != suppress, also.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 11:56am

        Re: Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

        Maybe he believes Google is the government? Might explain some things.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 3:55pm

        This is incidental...

        But there certainly is (or should be) a threshold of utility or market share (especially if a company has a monopoly on critical features) at which point the company has to abide by the same rules of neutrality that departments of state (and its agents) do.

        IANAL so I don't know how that threshold is defined, but one example is Microsoft Windows, when Microsoft was looking to integrate Internet Explorer into Windows Explorer without allowing for any substitution with a competing web browser. It was determined that Windows had enough of a market share, and Windows Explorer (its file manager) were too integral.

        I don't know all that Google is doing, and if anything of it qualifies for that threshold. Though I know if they did something to make their Gmail intolerable to me, I'd have a heck of a time backing it all up and transferring to a different email service.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 4:43pm

          Re: This is incidental...

          Though I know if they did something to make their Gmail intolerable to me, I'd have a heck of a time backing it all up and transferring to a different email service.

          You should have already backed up anything of value within your Gmail account. While very unlikely, it could go away suddenly, and then where would you be.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          XcOM987 (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 6:55am

          Re: This is incidental...

          I think that was managed under anti consumer rules

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2018 @ 10:24pm

      Re: No right " to ban books or to suppress the speech of the public" unless it's Google, arbitrarily denying use of its vast "platform", eh?

      Dunn is not going to marry you, blue. No matter how much you suck him off.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 9:54am

    What's interesting is that, if you look at the members' bios on the website (http://www.conejousd.org/Board-of-Education/Board-Member-Bios), the trustees come from a varied background, none of them identify by party, and most of their bios seem fairly apolitical: best choices for parents and students, involving stakeholders, setting goals and measuring success, etc.

    ONLY Dunn dog whistles the GOP: "promoting traditional family values without property tax increases". He's a hack, and a shoddy one at that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 11:41am

      Re:

      Maybe the rest of the board is pretty good, then. They also didn't abuse procedures to make her shut up and then arrest her for not sitting down fast enough, or something. That seems to be how it usually goes when a majority would collude to suppress speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Machin Shin, 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:00am

    Reading the e-mail Scott Harris sent in reply to that threat just makes me want to use their company. In fact after looking at their site I am likely to recommend them to people in need of their services.

    Distance is a little bit of an issue, but things like online marketing... it doesn't matter that I live in a different state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:22am

    reminds me of that PTA speech in Field of Dreams. Seems Dunn had two 50's and went straight to the 70's

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:46am

    Everytime these public officials dig the hole they find themselves in when affronting the public on one matter or the other, they seem to get a free helping hand out. Its so disappointing that they never have to play by the same rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 11:29am

    This was in Vice city?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 11:50am

    What till Dunn discovers Huckaberry Finn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 11:56am

    even agitating to get someone fired, is using "more speech" against speech someone doesn't like -- and in many cases, that's true.

    This tactic has become very popular in recent years for explicit use to intimidate others into silence for views that fall short of anything vaguely related to extremosm.

    While it may be speech to contact an employer to try to get someone else fired, it is grossly irresponsible for those with a news platform to mention this without also mentioning the censorious intent of the speech.

    I've always been taught freedom of speech was meant to promote freedom of expression, speak truth to power, and foster discourse between persons. Speech aimed explicitly at intimidating others into no longer speaking runs counter to the very notion of free speech. Paradox of tolerance seems apropos here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Narcissus (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 3:46am

      Re:

      Generally speaking I agree with you that it's an intimidation tactic that should be avoided and that it is too much like mob justice.

      However, and I think this is where Mike is going with his "more speech" comment, there is a lot of grey area. I think that we could agree that it would be justified to try to get somebody fired from a civil rights organization if he was a card carrying member of the KKK. However, there are many grey areas.

      (off topic: They do carry cards I hope? I always think that somebody cannot justifiably call himself an Exalted Cyclops or Grand Wizard without carrying a full deck of Magic: The Gathering cards)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 5 Feb 2018 @ 12:31pm

    Degradation of the 1st Amendment is very vogue the last year.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    lars626 (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 1:35pm

    Sales boost

    I hope the local bookstores have a good stock of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian". I have the feeling the sales volume is going up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 1:59pm

    iGNORANCE? of the laws

    Common sense..?
    General concepts to communication?
    WOW, what an idea, dont talk to the WOMAN, find some GUY and have HIM do your dirty work?
    I cant say he is old testament, but at least Christ had a few women around him as disciples..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Updater of Info, 5 Feb 2018 @ 2:47pm

    Info Update

    "The Conejo Valley Unified School District board will consider a resolution to censure trustee Mike Dunn at Tuesday’s meeting in response to an email exchange last week that sparked controversy in the community."


    http://www.vcstar.com/story/news/education/2018/02/02/conejo-valley-school-board-consider -censure-trustee-mike-dunn-tuesday/1084660001/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 7:38pm

    Someone get some aloe for that burn

    'Thank you for the courtesy of putting your threat in writing. However, before you go off half-cocked and wrong--again--and while you often have little apparent interest in the truth or facts, allow me to correct you in advance of you making good on your threats.'

    When a response starts like that, you know it's going to be good, and the man most certainly delivered.

    Dunn threw a tantrum and made a threat, and as a result he went from being called out by one person to having his attempted threats made public for many to see.

    With that I must issue a congratulations to Dunn; if he was looking to make his character known far and wide he most certainly succeeded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 5 Feb 2018 @ 9:04pm

    Dear Mr. Dunn:

    Attached is a letter that we received on January 25, 2018. I feel that you should be aware that some asshole is signing your name to stupid letters.

    Very truly yours,
    AnonymousMommy

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2018 @ 10:27pm

    Dear Trustee Dunn

    how's your Malibu house going?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 1:26am

    Idiot gains political position, decides this gives him super powers. He put on his bath towel cape and leapt off the garage. Screams it is everyone elses fault after he crashes into the ground like all other mere mortals.

    Its sort of sad that this community decided this would be the best person to make decisions about their children's futures when he can only parrot talking points gained via a game of telephone where no one along the chain ever read the source material before passing on how it was about overthrowing God & destroying the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 6 Feb 2018 @ 6:00am

    DON'T BAN BOOKS !!

    Burn them instead.

    Historically this has proven to be far more effective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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