Charter school funding protesters sue Philadelphia after signs were confiscated

By Jim Boyle | Mar 17, 2015

PHILADELPHIA - Three Philadelphia women who attended a school district meeting to

voice their opposition to public charter school funding say officials from the district and police department violated their First Amendment rights by forcibly confiscating signs and removing one plaintiff from the meeting.

Ilene Poses, Lisa Haver and Barbara Dowdall, residents of Philadelphia, jointly seek punitive and compensatory damages against the City of Philadelphia, unidentified Philadelphia police officers and William Green, chairman of the School Reform Commission for allegedly violating their civil rights.

According to the complaint, the three plaintiffs attended a public session of the School Reform Commission on Feb. 18 to observe the proceedings and show their support of public schools and opposition to the funding of additional charter schools in Philadelphia.

The claim says that supporters of charter schools were permitted to express their viewpoint, while the plaintiffs' small posters were confiscated, with one attendee forcibly removed from the School District Education Center on Broad Street.

The plaintiffs say their rights to free speech and assembly under the First Amendment and their right to be free from unlawful seizures and detention under the Fourth Amendment were violated by the defendants' actions.

Previous meetings have permitted the use of signs, posters and T-shirts to show support for certain issues before the board, the complaint says. At the Feb. 18 meeting, the sole purpose was for the SRC to consider applications by 39 charter schools seeking approval and funding.

According to the complaint, representatives from an organization in support of the charter schools, Knowledge is Power Program, provided T-shirts to attendees in favor of funding the programs. However, the KIPP supporters did not have to give up their signs and were not forced to leave, the claim says.

Poses and Dowdall watched the meeting on a closed circuit television in a spillover room with other attendees who could not fit in the overcrowded auditorium. The claim says they wore signs around their necks, but they did not obstruct anybody's view.

A Philadelphia police officer told Poses and Dowdall that they were not permitted to have a sign and ordered them to leave the building, the plaintiffs say.

While waiting in the auditorium for the meeting, Haver's sign was allegedly taken by a district official, who also removed other posters inside her bag. When Haver asked Green why the signs have been taken, he allegedly responded, "that's our policy tonight."

The complaint says that the district's actions were in response to the plaintiffs' particular viewpoint regarding charter schools and a direct violation of their constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs are represented by Paul Messing of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg.

The federal case ID is 2:15-cv-01213-LDD.

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