Board Member Referendum Rules
A few members of the community have very recently questioned some Board of Education members identifying themselves, either directly or in response to questions, as Board members while engaging in activities in support of the upcoming school construction referendum. The questioned activities include door to door canvassing, distributing referendum material, offering vote “yes” yard signs and attending gatherings in residences of community members. The implication of the questions is that Board members may engage in these activities, but they cannot do so if they identify themselves as Board members. At least one questioner has pointed to a referendum guidance document which was provided to the District by its non-lawyer consultants in August of this year and included a statement that District “employees and officers” could not use their official titles or authority while campaigning on behalf of a referendum.
The District’s attorneys have reviewed these questions and advised that Board members may engage in these types of activities, and identify themselves as Board members, in the exercise of their free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I Section 4 of the Illinois Constitution. These constitutional rights are subject to certain limitations, which include prohibiting the use of District resources or pressuring, rewarding or punishing employees to vote “yes” or “no” on the referendum question, but there is no general legal prohibition of Board members identifying themselves as Board members while campaigning for or against the referendum. The District’s attorneys have also advised that the guidance document provided by the referendum consultants is not binding on Board members because it cannot override their constitutional free speech rights and, in any event, it was never adopted by the Board. Finally, the District’s attorneys have advised that, although not legally required, it would be prudent for Board members who identify themselves as Board members while engaging in vote “yes” or vote “no” referendum activities to clarify that they are doing so in their individual capacity.