If You Can’t Say Something Nice About Someone….

The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) recently launched its $107,000 ThoughtExchange program, an online communication tool by which a large number of participants can make their opinions known on various issues affecting ICCSD.1 Through ThoughtExchange, ICCSD asks participants to review and assign stars to the thoughts you value to help us [ICCSD] get a sense of the shared priorities in our schools and community. Participating stakeholders are informed of the following:

Thought Exchange City High 1A 160322

The major problem is that the “thoughts” shown on ThoughtExchange are controlled and censored by ICCSD. Indeed, the district informs participants of the following:

Thought Exchange City High 2 160322

So ICCSD does not show us critical thoughts about district officials and board members. On the other hand, complimentary thoughts about school officials are allowed.
For example, here is an example of an actual thought posted on ThoughtExchange, which illustrates that whomever submitted this thought had a positive view of  ICCSD’s Superintendent Steve Murley and two of ICCSD’s board members.


What are some things you appreciate about our school this year?


Thought Exchange City High 160322
The problem, of course, is that the district is a governmental body and public citizens have a First Amendment right to be critical, and even disparaging and rude, to and about public officials. Further, ICCSD promoted ThoughtExchange as a forum for community engagement so this censorship based upon viewpoint detracts from the robust and open discussion that should occur in a community engagement about schools. Also problematic is that the anonymous submitter of this thought could even have been one of the individuals named. This censorship of speech is an invitation to a lawsuit by a civil liberties group or others who protect First Amendment rights.
The bottom line is that removing a comment, positive or negative, about a public official or matter of public concern from a supposedly public forum is wrong.

So what should the board do about this mess? If it is too late to get our money spent on ThoughtExchange back and to instead  use the funds to better address children’s needs, the board should, at a minimum, adopt a policy and procedure to prevent the administration from curtailing or banning criticism about public officials. At the very least, the board should not allow those who are the likely recipients of criticism to have the authority to remove such criticism from the public view.


 1ICCSD’s board voted on a 4-3 vote to approve a “3 year contract with ThoughtExchange not to exceed $107,000” on November 24, 2015, with board members Brian Kirschling, Chris Lynch, Lori Roetlin, and LaTasha DeLoach voting in favor of it and board members Chris Liebig, Phil Hemingway, and Tom Yates voting against it. This vote came after a discussion where Mr. Liebig had expressed concerns about whether ThoughtExchange had been statistically verified for survey purposes, and Mr. Yates had expressed concerns that ICCSD “can have the filters do pretty much whatever we want them to.” You can view the ICCSD Board November 24, 2015, minutes here.



This entry was posted in Community Comment, First Amendment, Free Speech, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Murley, Open Meeting, Public Comment, Superintendent, ThoughtExchange. Bookmark the permalink.

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