After it was put on notice by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Douglas County School District called off its order banning a Castle Rock journalist from school board meetings.
ACLU of Colorado, which filmmaker Brian Malone contacted after school officials ejected him from an Aug. 7 school board meeting, sent the district a demand letter Aug. 13 calling for removal of the restrictions by late the following afternoon. District legal counsel Rob Ross emailed the ACLU attorney Aug. 14 to say the district would do so.
Malone was banned from all school property after he stepped out of a taped-off area newly designated for those video recording the meeting. Malone said he left the area because he couldn’t get a shot of a presenter’s face. The district later amended its order and permitted the parent of two Douglas County Schools' students to pick up and drop off his children at school.
Ross’ letter to the ACLU attorney reopens the district’s doors to Malone.
“Based on the assurances that Mr. Malone will comply with (our) reasonable parameters for cameras at meetings of the board of education, we are lifting the restrictions on his access to district property … effective immediately,” Ross wrote.
But Ross noted the district “will be compelled to again seek his removal from the board room and may take further action” if Malone doesn’t comply.
ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said the organization waited to contact the district until it could review a letter sent to Malone by the district’s security area manager Mark Knapp.
“I was having trouble believing the Douglas County School District was actually going to follow through and send a written order that purported to prohibit Brian from coming on school property,” Silverstein said. “It’s an issue of protecting the right of journalists and the right of the public to attend the meetings of a public body.
“We’re very gratified for their prompt response. That saves everyone the trouble of having to go to court over this issue.”
Malone, 47, said he felt compelled to call the ACLU.
“What were my options? Sit there and take it, or do something about it?” he said. “I clearly felt like my First Amendment rights were violated. The ACLU is here to protect all of our rights.”
Malone, a longtime Castle Rock resident, is an independent filmmaker whose documentaries cover topics including political polarization, celebrity court trials and American cowboys. Recent school board issues including the voucher court case and the failed union negotiations caught his attention and prompted his decision to film board meetings. Malone said he’s tried unsuccessfully to interview district officials about the issues facing them.
Malone still faces misdemeanor charges of disrupting a lawful meeting, and the ACLU has extended its services to defend him against the citation.
Malone said he “absolutely” will attend and film the next board meeting on Aug. 21.
The ACLU is among several parties who successfully filed suit in 2011 to stop the Douglas County School District’s voucher program from moving forward. The district has since appealed the case.