NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — Three members of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education have filed a lawsuit against former Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph and the Metro government.
The board members—Jill Speering (District 3), Fran Bush (District 6) and Amy Frogge (District 9)—claim a clause in Joseph’s severance agreement violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Last year, Joseph announced he would not seek to renew his contract, which was set to expire June 30, 2020. The school board voted to buy out Joseph’s contract and approved his severance agreement at the April 9, 2019 board meeting.Part of Joseph's severance agreement includes a clause prohibiting the school board from making “any disparaging or defamatory comments regarding Dr. Joseph and his performance as Director of Schools.” Speering, Bush and Frogge voted against accepting the terms of the agreement. The motion still passed, 5-3.
“The School Board Censorship Clause prohibits the Plaintiffs from truthfully communicating with their constituents, with one another, and with other elected officials about matters essential to their offices and their duties as elected representatives,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit also claims that the clause does not allow for “truthful criticism” of Joseph and his tenure, but allows for “laudatory false statements.” The suit calls for the clause to be declared unconstitutional.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Daniel Horwitz, released a statement Monday evening:
Elected officials have a First Amendment right and professional obligation to speak truthfully about matters of public concern affecting their constituents. Any effort to prevent dissenting School Board Members from expressing truthful criticism about the former director of schools cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny. I am confident that the censorship clause that was added to ex-Director Joseph’s severance agreement will be declared unenforceable and enjoined.
News4 reached out to Joseph and the Metro Department of Law for a statement. We have not heard back.
This is a developing story. Stay with News4 for updates.