Gag Order

Ozark School District Retaliation Against JROTC

Read the story of how the Major was forced from his position by the Ozark, MO School District. 

Gag Order

My recounting of the tale of administrative abuse began here and continues on this page with the District’s illegal mandate to force my silence…

When the high school principal, Dr. Brownfield, read me my suspension notice and verbally added additional restrictions, he did not include any restriction against my talking about my case. So I asked him directly whether I was prohibited from talking about it. He responded that he knew of no reason I would not be at liberty to talk about my case with others.

JROTC-cadets-and-Major

Although he had already confirmed my latitude to talk about it, I chose to remain tight-lipped about this case.  Talking about it would surely irritate the District and further inflame my situation.  When I later contemplated how much information I could safely divulge to inquiring parents, I thought it prudent to confirm my latitude to do so with Dr. Brownfield.  I did not want to run the risk of his later claiming to have forbade me from talking about it.  Thus I emailed him and asked him to confirm in writing that I was under no prohibition from talking about this case.  His response avoided answering that particular question, so I emailed him again.  He again resisted the question.  So I emailed him a third time.  He then responded with:

You are not permitted to discuss your personnel issues or the current investigation with persons other than your attorney or your immediate family.  Therefore, you are explicitly directed not to discuss the aforementioned matters with students, parents, patrons, or others.  If the situation evolves into an adversarial proceeding where you will need the assistance of witnesses, this directive may be modified.  However, at the present time that is not contemplated.  Nevertheless, failure to comply with this directive could serve as the basis for further action, up to and including an adversarial proceeding.  Do not further complicate a situation that is still within the realm of reasonable resolution for all involved.

When I met with Dr. Carson, the Assistant Superintendent of Learning, on 21 January, he explained that the purpose of a gag order is to preserve the integrity of an investigation. Prohibiting the target of the investigation from talking with people who might be interviewed about the investigation helps to protect their recollection of events against contamination. However, as I was already prohibited from talking to any District employees or students, the purpose of a gag order against talking about the case at all seems principally intended to either protect the school district from embarrassment or undermine my opportunity to build a defense (or both). It also seems a pretty explicit violation of both state law RSMo § 105.55 and District Policy GBCBB: Protected Staff Communications. Nevertheless, I remained compliant with that order until the investigation was concluded.

“The purpose of a gag order against talking about the case at all seems principally intended to either protect the school district from embarrassment or undermine my opportunity to build a defense (or both). . . . Nevertheless, I remained compliant with that order until the investigation was concluded.“
RSMo § 105.55: Reporting of mismanagement or violations

of agencies, discipline of employee prohibited

Policy GBCBB: Protected Staff Communications

No supervisor or appointing authority of any public employer shall prohibit any employee of the public employer from discussing the operations of the public employer, either specifically or generally, with any member of the legislature, state auditor, attorney general, a prosecuting or circuit attorney, a law enforcement agency, news media, the public, or any state official or body charged with investigating any alleged misconduct described in this section.

No supervisor or appointing authority of any public employer shall:
(1)  Prohibit a public employee from or take any disciplinary action whatsoever against a public employee for the disclosure of any alleged prohibited activity under investigation or any related activity, or for the disclosure of information which the employee reasonably believes evidences:
(a)  A violation of any law, rule or regulation; or
(b)  Mismanagement, a gross waste of funds or abuse of authority, violation of policy, waste of public resources, alteration of technical findings or communication of scientific opinion, breaches of professional ethical canons, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, if the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law;

District administrators or supervisors will not prohibit an employee from discussing the operations of the district, either specifically or generally, with any member of the legislature, the state auditor, the attorney general, a prosecuting or circuit attorney, a law enforcement agency, the news media, members of the public, or any state official or body charged with the investigation of misconduct listed in this policy unless allowed by law.

Unless a disclosure is prohibited by law, neither the district nor its administrators and supervisors will prohibit a district employee from, or take disciplinary action against a district employee for, disclosing an alleged prohibited activity under investigation, any related activity or any information the district employee reasonably believes to be evidence of:
1. A violation of any law, rule or regulation;
2. Mismanagement;
3. A gross waste of district funds;
4. An abuse of authority;
5. Any violation of district policy;
6. A waste of public resources;
7. Any alteration of technical findings or communication of scientific opinion;
8. A breach of professional ethical canons; or
9. A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

The local Missouri State Teachers Association representative also found it unorthodox that the district would prohibit me from any conversation with district employees and students. She thought it good counsel for me to voluntarily adopt that I not discuss the case with others, but she also questioned whether it was within the school’s legal authority to forbid me from doing so. She said the norm is for schools to simply prohibit teachers from talking about their case, not from talking to district personnel.

“The local Missouri State Teachers Association representative also found it unorthodox that the district would prohibit me from any conversation with district employees and students.”

Five calendar weeks after my suspension, I was finally called in to answer questions about the class presentation…

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