McKinney School Board President Sued for Squelching Free Speech - Texas Scorecard

UPDATED May 19 to include additional information from the complaint.

In another action-packed school board meeting in McKinney, the board president was served with a lawsuit for suppressing the free speech rights of citizens who disagree with her policies.

Civil rights attorney Paul Davis served Amy Dankel, president of McKinney Independent School District’s board of trustees, during the public comments portion of Tuesday night’s meeting.

“Your outrageous display of tyranny in how you trampled on the rights of the public at the last meeting was shocking,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In recent months, McKinney ISD’s school board meetings have featured a heavy police presence.

On several occasions, police officers have ejected citizens, at Dankel’s direction, for failing to observe her rules of decorum during public comments.

Davis said Tuesday that Dankel’s rules “placed an unconstitutional restraint on First Amendment rights by disallowing signs, clapping, and comments.”

He also says Dankel enforced her rules unequally.

She directed police to physically remove people who were wearing green—supporters of conservative trustee Chad Green, who Dankel is trying to oust from the board.

“Those same rules were not applied to people wearing blue,” Davis said, referring to Dankel supporters. “For that, we have filed a civil rights lawsuit against you.”

Kevin Whitt is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

During last month’s school board meeting, the pro-family activist spoke against the district’s failure to proactively identify and remove sexually explicit books found in students’ libraries—a contentious topic in McKinney and other districts across the state since last year.

Later in that meeting, Whitt was dragged out by City of McKinney police officers for uttering a single word—“disgusting”—after a local mom finished comments that included excerpts from one of the explicit books.

Other citizens at that meeting were forcibly ejected by police, at Dankel’s direction, for clapping. The incidents were captured on multiple cell phone videos and posted online.

This month, police blocked Whitt from even entering the building during the meeting.

“I showed up, but I wasn’t allowed to go in,” he said Tuesday. “Before I could even get out of my car, the police officer came to my car and gave me a criminal trespass citation.”

The lawsuit also names four McKinney police officers who participated in physically removing people from the April 26 meeting.

Fifteen McKinney Police Department vehicles were parked outside Tuesday’s meeting—three times the usual number.

All 15 McKinney PD officers assigned to McKinney ISD as school resource officers (SROs) seemed to be on the premises as well, along with the district’s Director of Safety and Security Robert Montgomery.

Some were surveilling the parking lot for Whitt and other citizens Dankel wanted to keep out of the board meeting.

Samuel Hall, who also spoke at last month’s meeting against McKinney ISD’s inaction on obscene books, was intercepted by police outside the building and blocked from entering.  

Hall recorded his encounter with McKinney police officers, who issued him “a criminal trespass warning for all McKinney ISD property that’s good forever unless they rescind it.”

“You have three minutes to get off the property, or you’re going to be arrested for criminal trespass,” SRO Supervisor Sgt. Farrel Ritchie told Hall.

“I’m just doing my job,” Ritchie added.

At the start of last month’s meeting, Dankel said draconian rules were needed because “decorum has deteriorated” recently. She said disrupters would be immediately escorted out by police, cited for criminal trespass, and banned from McKinney ISD property.

“Consider this your only warning,” she said.

During February’s meeting, Dankel instructed police to remove a lone citizen for heckling a public commenter in favor of keeping explicit books, after it appeared she was allowed more time to speak than others.

For months, Dankel and other trustees (besides Green), along with Superintendent Rick McDaniel, have downplayed parents’ concerns about the harmful effects of sexually explicit materials on minor children and admonished parents to follow the district’s time-consuming book-challenge policies and procedures. They’ve also conflated challenges to graphic sex and other adult content with objections based on general subject matter.

Parents say they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get obscene material out of their taxpayer-funded school libraries. They point out how other districts have followed state-approved policies to remove books that administrators find to be “pervasively vulgar” or educationally unsuitable.

McKinney citizens have become increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as Dankel and other board members’ failure to listen to them.

Dankel acknowledged at the start of Tuesday’s meeting that she’d received questions about freedom of speech after last month’s meeting.

“I will try to be fair,” she said. “I admit I got into the gray area a little bit on that.”

 

McKinney ISD Lawsuit-Whitt v Dankel by Erin Anderson on Scribd