On the eve of a 2012 teacher strike, the Eagle Point School District adopted policies banning all signs and picketing activity on school property. The Eagle Point Education Association promptly notified the District that the policies were unconstitutional but the District refused to modify them. During the strike, the District strictly enforced its new policies to restrict pro-teacher speech by students and others. The District defended its policies as part of its “educational mission.” It also argued that school property was not a “not a public forum” and that striking educators had no legitimate reason to be on school property.
The Association filed a federal lawsuit challenging the District’s policies under both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions during the strike. It pursued those claims after the strike settled. In a sharply worded ground-breaking decision, Federal Magistrate Mark Clark ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on each of its claims. He found that the District’s policies were neither neutral nor necessary to protect the educational mission of the school: “The importance of educating and caring for students in the midst of such a crisis cannot be overstated. However, it is precisely this mission that gives an even higher purpose to the protections and freedoms afforded by the Constitution. In this case, what could have been an incredible opportunity for students to witness the function of the Bill of Rights in their very own lives and learn first-hand that the important principals of our government are not mere platitudes instead became a situation of reactionary, fear-based policies designed to suppress any opposition or unpopular viewpoint.” He also found that the sign policy was unlawful as applied to student Staci Boyer, who was barred from parking in the school parking lot because of a pro-teacher sign in her car.
Magistrate Clark’s report was review by to U.S. Federal District Judge Michael McShane. Judge McShane affirmed the decision in all respects.