GOSHEN, Ind. — REAL News Michiana filed a federal lawsuit against Goshen Community Schools and its superintendent, Steven Hope. The civil rights violation lawsuit, filed in South Bend on Thursday, claims the school district and Superintendent Hope violated RNM’s Clifton French’s first amendment rights when Hope refused to allow the journalist to record audio at a school board meeting in August.
You can read the entire lawsuit attached below.
The lawsuit reads in part:
Clifton French has dedicated his life to family, country and community. He is an
award-winning journalist with nearly 15 years of experience. Mr. French is also a highly decorated veteran of the Iraq War where he received several accommodations, including a medal with Valor for “displaying unwavering courage in the midst of enemy fire.” He is now being denied the rights he risked his life to preserve.
At all times, the actions of Superintendent Steven Hope were official acts performed
under the color of state law which sought to infringe upon the Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected interests under the First Amendment, which protects against government intrusion upon freedom of speech and the press, and prevents conduct evidencing viewpoint-based discrimination.
The lawsuit stems from a Goshen Community Schools Board meeting early last month where Superintendent Hope prevented REAL News Michiana from recording audio, telling RNM’s Clifton French, “No Mics!” Other GCS staff told RNM we could pull audio off of Goshen Community Schools’ YouTube feed, however, video of the meeting was pulled from the district’s YouTube account. This district did put video back on the YouTube account after an RNM story regarding the issue, however, several parts of audio could not be heard.
This meeting was contentious with many people in attendance planning to speak for and against a 6th grade teacher who organized a drag show for children at a public park pool this summer. RNM broke the story about the drag show and its organizer the day before the event was scheduled. After RNM published a story regarding the event, the Goshen LGBTQ Pride organization publicly announced they had cancelled the drag show for kids, which you can read about here. Superintendent Hope is on the record defending the teacher. You can read that story here.
Only minutes after denying RNM the ability to record audio, Hope made a statement that seemed to pick a side in the room. Despite RNM not hearing a single person attack the LGBTQ community or their rights and simply describe concern about a middle school teacher organizing a drag show for kids, Hope seemed to indicate the LGBTQ community was under attack.
“I want to start with a special message for the LGBTQ community.” Hope said. “Goshen schools will be open to all.” The quote is being taken from RNM’s notes and could be off by a few words, since there is no audio record of the meeting was available.
In his nearly 15 years of news coverage, Clifton has never not been allowed to place a microphone in an area that would allow him to pick up public and official comment during a public meeting. In Florida for example, where recording is allowed in courtrooms, Clifton has been consistently allowed to place microphones on the witness stand. Clifton has also reported from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was allowed to record video and audio.
The board did change the venue of this meeting the day before it was scheduled to occur. The meeting was moved from the administration center at 613 E. Purl Street to the new Goshen Intermediate School on Greene Rd.
RNM’s Clifton French arrived to the meeting 45 minutes early to set up. As he arrived, staff members were still setting up the new venue. RNM asked if there was going to be a podium for microphone placement, the staff member said the podium was left at the other venue. RNM explained we could place the small microphone on a table near the public comment area and superintendent, but Superintendent Steve Hope told his staff and RNM “no mics” were allowed.
RNM did manage to physically mic up one of the citizens prior to his turn during public comment. That was the only clean audio obtained.
Hope has been the Superintendent at Goshen Community Schools since last year. He was previously the Assistant Superintendent. He spent 22 years in the Penn Harris Madison school district prior to that. He was the principal at Penn High School for 11 years before heading to Goshen in 2017.
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