Madison Schools to pay $107,500 in federal free speech lawsuit

Madison Schools have agreed to pay Billy Ison and his lawyers $107,500 after a federal appeals court ruled the district violated his free speech rights during the debates over its gun policy.

The settlement agreement stipulates the six-figure settlement amount and that the district will not restrict speech that is abusive, personally directed or antagonistic anymore.

The settlement states Ison received $2,500, and three law firms who represented him will get the rest.

Ison’s attorney Jennifer Kinsley told the Journal-News she can’t comment on the case until District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett signs off on the settlement. Madison’s new Superintendent Jeff Staggs also said he had no comment.

Ison, his family and a friend sued the schools in February 2019 in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. They claimed the school board violated their right to free expression and made it virtually impossible for them to speak their views about the controversial concealed-carry gun policy during school board meetings.

They asked Barrett to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the district from requiring in-person registration and enforcing a policy section that says the presiding officer may “interrupt, warn or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, off-topic, antagonistic, obscene or irrelevant.”

Barrett determined the school board’s policy was proper. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided the board’s policy for the most part was constitutionally sound but restricting “viewpoint speech” is wrong.

“The restrictions on ‘antagonistic,’ ‘abusive’ and ‘personally directed speech’ prohibit speech because it opposes, or offends, the board or members of the public, in violation of the First Amendment,” the opinion reads.

The court remanded that part of the case back to Barrett to determine monetary damages.

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