It began with a letter from the Superintendent of the Teaneck school district, André D. Spencer, to the parents and students, characterizing Hamas’ October 7th attack not as terrorism, or even as something bad perpetrated by Hamas, but as “the latest incidents in the cycle of violence in the Middle East.” At the next Board of Education meeting, Jewish parents stood to address this failing. Board Vice President Victoria Fisher was having none of it.
The Board, however, repeatedly cut off commenters who described Hamas’s actions to
underscore why they thought Superintendent Spencer should have issued a stronger statement condemning the attack:
Another commenter, Keith Kaplan, called on the district to revise its statement and condemn Hamas. “This is the week to talk about the savagery, the inhumanity that was perpetrated by a terrorist group on innocent civilians who were butchered, who were raped, who were mutilated, who were beheaded, and worse,” Kaplan said before Vice President Fisher cut him off for not following the “ground rules.” Kaplan continued, “Imagine for a moment these heinous acts were committed by any group in any other place. Raping, butchering, beheading, setting aflame some thousand people.” President Rodriguez interrupted again, but Kaplan went on, “Imagine any politician anywhere responding to those acts, those outrageous crimes, calling them incidents in a cycle of violence. You are noncommittal. It begs the question as to whether our schools operate in a value-free zone — a value-free zone where torture and rape are relative.” President Rodriguez told Kaplan, “You need to stop now,” and the Board cut his mic and had him removed from the lectern. Moments later, Vice President Fisher says, “Keep your politics out of it.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Keith is a regular here. Keith was silenced after he refused to go gently into the night.
The board, however, wasn’t satisfied and had its attorneys send Keith a cease and desist letter, arguing that the board’s silencing Keith wasn’t because of his content, but how he “comported himself,” and ending in the best of lawyerly admonitions, “please be guided accordingly.” Keith called FIRE, and FIRE called bullshit.
The FIRE letter not only condemned the board’s flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and debunked its attorneys attempt to spin the board’s flagrant anti-Israel and pro-Hamas control of speakers, but even graciously offered to come to Teaneck and explain to the board using small words how the First Amendment works so it can.
FIRE therefore calls on the Teaneck Board of Education to bring its public comment policies in
line with the First Amendment, and to ensure constituents are free to comment at Board
meetings without facing unconstitutional censorship. FIRE would be pleased to work with the
Board to ensure its policies and practices meet these criteria.
Okay, they never promised to only use “small words.” That was my editorial contribution. So sue me. Keith, being perpetually diligent, wanted to be sure that the FIRE letter reached school board vice president Victoria Fisher, so he texted her.
Neither the Teaneck Board of Education nor their attorneys at the Weiner Law Group have responded to FIRE’s letter, but leading indicators suggest that this may not go as smoothly as hoped.