U.S. District Judge John Heil III ruled on Monday night that Owasso dad Tim Reiland could not be banned from his daughter’s school grounds after being a vocal critic of school policy. In a decisive win for parental rights and the rights of citizens to confront their government vociferously on matters of importance, the decision enjoined the superintendent from enforcing her now-illegal ban. Reiland had been petitioning the Owasso school board to rewrite their policy that allowed a pornographic book to find its way into his daughter’s hands. While the school removed the book, it refused to update its selection policy, which led to a community outcry led by Reiland.
Perhaps hoping to silence their loudest critic, school superintendent Margaret Coates banned Reiland from school grounds and activities, claiming that he was a danger to students. This ban centered around two incidents in the parking lot that occurred after the Oct. 10 board meeting. Reiland spoke to one board member and one reporter in the parking lot and was accused of intimidation. PJ Media got the footage from the event in dispute which does not show any intimidation.
#OwassoSchoolDistrict has some explaining to do. Here is the incident with the father who was banned from school grounds and called “unsafe” around students by Margaret Coates. I reached out to the reporter involved for a statement. He has not responded. pic.twitter.com/FB0Mw6kcAh
— Megan Fox (@MeganFoxWriter) November 12, 2022
Reiland took Owasso public school to court over the ban and on Monday, he was vindicated.
“While it is true that injunctive relief is an extraordinary relief,” wrote Heil, “this Court finds that the First Amendment is an extraordinary right, deserving of extraordinary relief.”
The exchange captured on film above was the subject of the court hearing.
While the exact dialogue exchanged between Plaintiff and Mr. Haddaway is in dispute, the parties agree with the following regarding the interaction: (1) that Plaintiff expressed that the Case 4:22-cv-00484-JFH-JFJ Document 13 Filed in USDC ND/OK on 11/14/22 Page 2 of 16 3 Board’s decision to table the vote on the policy banning pornographic content from the library was “bullshit”; and (2) that Plaintiff asked Mr. Haddaway whether he would be running a story regarding the Board’s decision. Like Plaintiff’s statements to Mr. England—that the Board’s decision to table the vote on the policy banning pornographic content from the library was “fucking bullshit”—Plaintiff’s statements to Mr. Haddaway also expressed dissatisfaction with the Board’s inaction. Whether directed toward Mr. England or Mr. Haddaway, Plaintiff’s statements expressed criticism of the Board. Defendants change of position is, in this Court’s view, a distinction without a difference and a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the Court’s TRO.
Much like Heil supposed, it’s clear that the board just used the incident as an excuse to keep his ban in place since they lost on the first action in court on November 2. The judge was not amused by the attempt by Owasso employees and school board members to chill the first amendment rights of a concerned father and go around Heil’s first ruling to keep him banned by any means.
This Court is not convinced that Plaintiff’s conduct here could be classified as interfering with the “daily operation” of the school system, as the conduct occurred on a single occasion, in a parking lot, after school hours, and outside of any school related activity. And, likewise, this Court cannot be convinced that the First Amendment is not a basic constitutional value which would be directly and sharply implicated by the ban.
Judge Heil made fools out of the government agents who claimed that Reiland was a threat to anyone.
Plaintiff here made a statement to a reporter following a Board meeting on a single occasion. The evidence before the Court does not show a “continuing pattern of verbal abuse or threatening behavior” toward a school official, or otherwise.
The judge also pointed out that the school’s “parking lot defense” was poorly constructed.
Defendants concede that the Board meeting falls into the “limited public forum” category, but argue that the parking lot after the meeting falls into the “nonpublic forum” category.
Claiming that a school district parking lot is somehow not a public space is absurd. But they tried it anyway!
Defendant Coates testified at the hearing that the purpose of the parking lot is to provide parking for patrons who have business at the school. Plaintiff had business at the school—to attend the Board meeting—and, therefore, was properly in the parking lot following the Board meeting. Plaintiff was not distributing flyers, or otherwise using the parking lot as a platform to advance any agenda. Rather, the evidence shows that Plaintiff had a seventeen (17) second interaction with a fellow patron regarding his criticism of the Board. The Court is not entirely persuaded that the parking lot is a nonpublic forum under this particular set of circumstances.
Judge Heil also called out Superintendent Coates for overreacting about the alleged “safety” concerns when it came to Reiland expressing himself and accused Coates of operating under a false pretext.
Defendant Coates and other Board Members who testified at the hearing expressed that the ban was motivated by their desire to ensure a safe environment. Although maintaining a safe environment is reasonable on its face, when “assessed in the light of the purpose of the forum and all the surrounding circumstances,” Defendants’ reasoning appears to be pretext.
The whole pretext of the ban was, according to Coates, stemming from Haddaway’s feelings of “intimidation,” but shockingly, it came out that Haddaway never felt intimidated and never asked anyone to defend him. Even worse, Coates never even spoke to Haddaway until after she banned Reiland. The entire thing was made up, using Haddaway as an unwitting scapegoat, to keep Reiland away from the school board members and Coates, whose skin is thinner than the charges leveled at Reiland and who cannot tolerate the criticism of the taxpayers they serve.
The evidence before the Court simply does not demonstrate that Plaintiff engaged in harassing or intimidating behavior. During the hearing, Mr. Haddaway testified that the entire exchange with Plaintiff lasted seventeen (17) seconds from start to finish. Mr. Haddaway stated that he did not interpret Plaintiff’s statements toward him as threatening and that he did not have any concern for his safety.
While he stated that Plaintiff used aggressive words (i.e., “bullshit”), Mr. Haddaway stated that he did not feel that Plaintiff was being aggressive toward him. Additionally, contradictory to Defendants’ characterization of the exchange, Mr. Haddaway stated that he did not recall seeing Plaintiff deliberately moving toward his vehicle and that Plaintiff did not have to move out of the way in order for Mr. Haddaway to get into his vehicle. Mr. Haddaway further testified that he did not subsequently express safety concerns regarding his presence on the school grounds or make any request for increased security.
Furthermore, Defendant Coates testified that she did not speak with Mr. Haddaway about the incident until October 18, 2022, six (6) days after she issued the ban. Mr. Haddaway did not provide Defendants with a written statement regarding the incident nor did he appear to provide Case 4:22-cv-00484-JFH-JFJ Document 13 Filed in USDC ND/OK on 11/14/22 Page 8 of 16 9 testimony at the two subsequent Board meetings regarding Plaintiff’s ban. Indeed, the Board Members who testified stated that Mr. Haddaway’s testimony at the injunction hearing was the first time that they heard about the incident directly from Mr. Haddaway himself
Judge Heil saw through the school’s machinations and protestations that Reiland was some sort of threat, and he let them know in no uncertain terms.
Viewing Plaintiff’s ban in light of all the surrounding circumstances, the Court finds that the restriction is not reasonable, but rather is an effort to suppress Plaintiff’s expression merely because public officials oppose his view. Just as Plaintiff was engaged in constitutionally protected speech when expressing his criticism of the Board to Mr. England, Plaintiff was engaged in constitutionally protected speech when expressing his criticism of the Board to Mr. Haddaway.
Judge Heil also pointed out, rightly, that the school’s actions against Reiland would necessarily injure the rights of others who wanted to speak out or criticize the board but would now be scared to do so.
Finally, as addressed in the TRO, the Court still finds that Defendants’ ban caused the Plaintiff “to suffer an injury that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that activity” and that Defendants’ ban “was substantially motivated as a response to the plaintiff’s exercise of constitutionally protected conduct.”
Heil ended his ruling reiterating that the school obviously retaliated against Reiland due to his speech they didn’t like and enjoined Coates from taking more action against him until the case goes to trial or summary judgment.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants Independent School District No. 11 of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, a/k/a Owasso Public Schools, and Margaret Coates, in her official capacity as Superintendent, are hereby enjoined from banning Plaintiff Timothy Reiland from Owasso Public School grounds as set forth in the letter from Defendant Coates dated October 12, 2022 [Dkt. No. 5 at 14], or as revised by subsequent Owasso School Board decision, during the pendency of this action.
Interestingly, at the board meeting Monday night, which I live streamed and you can see below, the board did vote on the new language that Reiland wanted in the book selection policy, and it passed with a unanimous vote. The local press all reported that the new policy passed but none of them, including Haddaway, wrote about the incredible court battle waged by school officials to keep Reiland away from board meetings. None of the press even reported on the court case that has serious implications for school boards everywhere. Beware retaliating against parents that our feckless administration has called “domestic terrorists.” Those with means can and will take these boards to court and win.
The moment Owasso school board concedes @opedaily and other parents concerned about graphic explicit material in school libraries were justified and right.@CourageHabit and @MeganFoxWriter make the point, it shouldn’t be this hard, and when dads stand up shit gets done! pic.twitter.com/Svk8zJ4dq8
— Words are free 🚺 (@sub_boo) November 15, 2022
Suing is the only way to fight back in many instances where school boards violate the rights of parents to speak out against woke policies. Reiland’s tenacity and refusal to back down should be a lesson to all. Not only did he force the board to institute common sense review policies but he also made them regret overreaching their authority by taking them before a judge whose words should sting the Owasso School District for quite some time and make them a glaring example for all school boards who need instruction on “how not to behave.”
You can see the board meeting and my interview with Reiland in the video below.