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Strictly Bush League

Tinker vs. Des Moines

The Desert Independent

December 11, 2016

BLYTHE, Calif – Tinker vs. Des Moines. This was a landmark school law decision on the same sanctity level as Brown II vs Topeka Board of Education. It all came about when students at a High School in Des Moines decided to wear black armbands in protest of the Viet Nam War. The ACLU picked up on the ban on this form of self-expression and was turned down by two appellate courts before being finally overturned as a freedom of speech issue by the U.S. Supreme Court. "A student does not lose his civil rights walking in the classroom door.” It is egregious in the extreme for person with a Master’s Degree in School Administration and no less than a Doctoral candidate to be so totally ignorant of this school law decision.

This all came about because of a girls’ basketball team exercising their freedom of expression by wearing sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “I Can't Breathe” coming into a tournament in Mr. Bush's old haunt of Fort Bragg. These were the last words of a black man killed by a white policeman in New York. Mind you, this was all before the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Mr. Bush gave the opposing teams an ultimatum not to wear these shirts or be banned from the tournament. His reasoning was that there would be a security risk coming from friends of a popular deputy that was killed the previous March. All the boys but one shed their sweatshirts. However, the entire girls’ team insisted on wearing them.

As a result, Mr. Bush dis-invited the entire girls’ team from Mendocino. This would cost the Fort Bragg school district $4,000 in legal fees and event security. Using public safety for such an excuse to dampen free expression was disingenuous at best. Mr. Bush would later relate that he received an abundance of hate mail – with one from as far away as Dubai.

The ACLU responded promptly with the following initial missive.

I Can't BreathMore than 40 years ago, students in Des Moines, Iowa planned to wear black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. When their school district threatened to suspend them if they did so, they took their case all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In deciding Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the U.S. Supreme Court was very clear – students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” And this remains true today.

You would think that schools would understand this by now, particularly in California, where students’ rights are protected not just by the state and federal constitutional protections for free speech, but also by state statutes that specifically require schools to respect their students’ free speech rights.

Unfortunately, not all of them do. Just this week the Fort Bragg Unified School District banned participants and spectators at the holiday basketball tournament from wearing t-shirts that say “I Can’t Breathe,” a reference to the death of Eric Garner in police custody. To make matters worse, the District also prohibited people from taking any action to protest that decision at the tournament.

The decision to ban these t-shirts and other political statements or protests from the tournament violates the protections for free speech, and the attempt to suppress criticism of this decision is an even more gross violation of what is perhaps the most fundamental principle of free speech: in our constitutional democracy, the government cannot lawfully silence its critics.

Although all but one member of the boys’ team from neighboring Mendocino High School submitted to the District’s ban, the girls’ team did not and was disinvited from the tournament.

This policy is unacceptable, and unconstitutional.

Today, we sent a letter to the Fort Bragg Unified School District asking that the District immediately stop this unlawful policy and allow players and spectators to wear t-shirts and other expressive items at the tournament.

We are also asking that the District immediately reinstate the Mendocino High School girls’ basketball team into the tournament, since they were wrongfully excluded from the tournament due to their collective refusal to waive their constitutional and statutory rights to free speech in order to play in the basketball tournament.

Participating in our democracy by expressing opinions about matters of public concern is both a constitutional right and a fundamental part of our system of government. Educators should be encouraging students – most of whom will soon be voters – to learn about and involve themselves in our democracy, not censoring them or punishing them when they speak out. Unfortunately, more than 40 years after Tinker, some schools still seem not to understand this. I hope that this sad example of this will serve as a reminder to them of what the constitution and laws of our nation require.

Update: According to the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, the ban has been lifted!

“This is to advise you that the district will not prohibit spectators from attending the Fort Bragg USD basketball tournament because they may be wearing a T-shirt that may have an expressive message on it."

This brouhaha was but one of several instances in which Mr. Bush flouted the civil rights of students and teachers.

The PVUSD school board did not conduct their own background check on this man as he came recommended by the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. The only prior failure of due diligence occurred ten years ago when Dr. Guith and Eugenia Webber traveled to Elk River, MN to conduct a background check on Dr. Alan Jensen. Ms. Webber went and talked to Dr. Jensen's friends that he had lined up for interviews. Dr. Guith opted to check out the new Cabela's sporting goods store that had just opened in the vicinity. Neither talked to a single board member who were in the process of terminating him. How much pain would have been spared to the district should they were only a little more diligent. As such, were saddled with the megalomaniacal Dr. Jensen, his son –Jacob Jensen - and later, the rapacious Dr. Yul Whitney.

And now, it's happened again.

Future articles will detail how Mr. Bush ruled Fort Bragg through fear and intimidation. His resignation was submitted one week after 90% of the tenured teachers and 25% of the probationary staff signed a Letter of No Confidence in Mr. Bush citing the creation of a "hostile work environment."

If only one of the current board members had googled his name.

If only one of the current board members had checked out his Facebook page. We invite the public to check it out for themselves.

Just go to Facebook and enter "Charles Bush Resignation.” Anyone with a smidgen of common sense could tell that this man was trouble.

This board failed in its due diligence to properly vet this man. The past always predicts the future. It would behoove the PVUSD board to now protect the employees and students of this district from their ill-advised choice.

There are parents that are already disenchanted with this man, telling one mother to enroll her student in another school district if she is unhappy with her son's placement in a combination class.

The public needs to inform themselves and make their voices heard. The next school board meeting will be held at 6:00 PM at the District Office on Tuesday, January 17.

There will be much more in regards to the new Superintendent between now and then.

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