Referendum Campaign Do's and Don'ts-WSD Employees

Make yourself aware of legal issues regarding how employees can discuss the referendum campaign!

 

CAMPAIGN DO’S AND DON’TS

 

Can an employee, during their work hours, advocate that students, parents or teachers vote, as long as they do not advocate HOW to vote?

 

Yes, but read the next question and answer.

 

Can a school district employee, during work hours, advocate that students, parents or teachers vote by absentee ballot?

 

No. Advocating voting absentee is prohibited by a separate code selection that makes it a simple misdemeanor for a public employee during work hours to solicit absentee ballots.  However, public employees may advise students, parents and teachers of the opportunity to vote absentee. The difference is between advising of an opportunity and advocacy.

 

Can a student advocate (1) voting or (2) a particular position on a ballot issue during school hours?

 

Yes, consistent with District policies, rules and regulations, that govern student speech. Because the student is not an employee of the District, there is no restriction on the student’s speech, except as allowed by the First Amendment.

 

Can a principal, administrator or teacher wear buttons during the workday that state “Vote Yes?”

 

An employee, in their individual capacity, may choose to wear a button as long as it is not usually prohibited by District policy. The District, however, may not encourage or discourage the employee from wearing or not wearing buttons.  T-shirts are different than buttons. The District may have a policy which prohibits employees from wearing shirts which contain political messages, advertising or logos. As a result, it is improper for an employee in his/her official capacity to wear a t-shirt either advocating for or against the ballot issue because of their position of authority over students and because the District has consistently enforced its policies, rules and regulations regarding wearing t-shirts.

 

Can the District sponsor a “Vote Yes” Poster Contest for students to be completed during the school day or as a school assignment?

 

No. In a May 24, 1982 letter opinion, the Attorney General stated that a school sponsorship of a “Vote Yes” poster contest or vote yes message in a school newsletter is impermissible. We believe the same answer would apply to a “Vote Yes” essay contest.

 

Can a principal tell employees to “Vote Yes” during a meeting held during the school day?

 

No. Because public funds cannot be used to advocate for or against a bond issue, the District may not use any facilities or public funds to support the ballot issue. In this case, the principal would be using his/her position, as well as school facilities, to urge a “Vote Yes” position on the ballot issue which is impermissible.

 

 

Can a principal or administrator at a PTA meeting held outside the school day urge a “Vote Yes” message at the meeting?

 

Yes, but read this answer. School officials and employees are prohibited from advocating for or against the ballot issue in their official capacity as District employees. However, school officials and employees are free to work as individuals to advocate for or against the issue. The principal or school official attending such meeting and urging a “Vote Yes” message should make it very clear that he/she is acting in an individual capacity and not as a school official on in their capacity as a District employee when urging such a message.

 

Can students take home information produced by the “Vote Yes” Committee or the PTA urging a “Vote Yes” message which has been distributed either through the school mail system or by teachers to students before school is let out?

 

No. The District may not allow either the opposition or the “Vote Yes” Committee to use its mail system to send information home with a student.

 

Can a school-sponsored parent newsletter advocate a “Vote Yes” or “No” position?

 

No, because it is direct use of public funds. This is different, however, then a student publication where the District may only restrict speech consistent with the First Amendment or an advertisement in a District publication that normally accepts such ads.

 

Can a District employee use the District’s telephone, e-mail system, fax machine or website to advocate a “Vote Yes” or “No” position on a ballot issue?

 

No, because this is a direct use of public funds to advocate for or against a ballot issue.

 

Can a student wear a “Vote Yes” t-shirt to an open house held at the school building?

 

Yes. Because the student is not an employee of the District, there is no prohibition on what the student wears to school as long as it conforms to the District’s policies, rules and regulations.

 

Can a student wearing a “Vote Yes” t-shirt sit with an adult at an open house and distribute brochures and flyers promoting a “Vote Yes” message?

 

Yes. The problem is not the student sitting with the adult at an open house or the student wearing the “Vote Yes” t-shirt in this scenario. The District is prohibited, through its employees, from displaying political posters, brochures, flyers or promotional literature of any type which advocates for or against a ballot issue in areas accessible to the public. This rule does not apply to students and student speech, is not limited, except in accordance with law. However, if the District has a written policy which would allow any member of the public to distribute brochures at an open house, the District may allow the “Vote Yes” Committee and the opposition to distribute brochures at open houses held in school buildings. Absent such a policy, the District should not allow the “Vote Yes” Committee or the opposition to distribute brochures at open houses held in school buildings.