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The San Diego Unified school board voted tonight to abolish a policy that barred its members from publicly making negative comments about their superintendent and staff after the policy received heavy criticism. The board also removed a policy that dissuades them from undermining board decisions when speaking publicly.

One member of the public, League of Women Voters of San Diego Co-President Norma Damashek, said tonight that the policies “short-circuit transparency and accountability in public meetings” and “deprive us of the opportunity to hear the views of our public representatives.” The rule was earlier criticized by attorneys from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the statewide open government group Californians Aware.

Several trustees complained that the controversy had overshadowed the rest of the governance policies adopted by the school board, which outline timelines and procedures for how the superintendent will be held accountable for school district goals. The policies were adopted to ensure adult behavior and avoid ridiculing the superintendent and staff, said school board President Katherine Nakamura.

The uproar was “a tempest in a teapot over free speech rights, (and) seemed to be patently ridiculous,” said school board member John de Beck, who noted that the penalties for violating the policies ranged from a private discussion with the offending board member to removal from school district committees. “… All of this hasn’t got any real substance.”

School board member Luis Acle was the only member to vote against removing the rule.

EMILY ALPERT

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