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School Board Ungags Itself

The Richmond School Board rescinds a controversial, self-imposed gag order intended to thwart disagreement.

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What started out a gag and became a joke may have a punch line that's not so funny for the Richmond School Board.

On April 7, the day after the board voted to rescind its self-imposed gag order, Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams jokingly named the board's gag order as a runner-up for a 2009 Muzzle Award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Not true this year, but don't count the School Board out of the running just yet. “We put that in the file for next year's candidates,” says Josh Wheeler, associate director for the Thomas Jefferson Center.

The School Board rescinded its weeks-old attempt to silence dissenting members after some board members — and voters — feared it might inhibit the ability of the elected body to respond to citizens.

The gag order, more formally referred to as a communication protocol, held that board members couldn't publicly disagree with the majority of the School Board. Doing so would lead to “consequences” meted out by the board's chief lawyer.

Style Weekly first reported the gag order on March 25. The T-D reported the order had been rescinded April 12.

Wheeler calls the gag a very muzzle-worthy contender.

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