Daily Archives: October 7, 2016

Political Activities of School Officers and Employees Related to Statewide Ballot Initiatives

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Author: Michael Tucker, Attorney at Law

Education Code Section 7050 et seq. address the right of school officers and employees to participate in political activities. Section 7050 et seq. specifically applies to officers and employees of school districts, county superintendents of schools, and community colleges.[1] In general, school officers and employees may not use public resources to urge the support or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate.[2] However, public resources may be used for informational efforts regarding ballot measures.[3] The potential penalties for improper use of public resources include county jail imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000, or imprisonment in state prison for up to three years.[4] The following is a description of various political activities in which school officers and employees may or may not participate, as well as a few examples. Please note that applying these principles in specific situations requires a careful analysis of the facts of the particular case as well as a thorough review of the law.

PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES

  1. School funds, services, supplies, or equipment may not be used to urge the support or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate.[5]
  1. School officers and employees may not directly or indirectly use, promise, threaten or attempt to use authority or influence for the purpose of influencing political action.[6]
  1. Restrictions may not be placed on the political activities of school officers or employees except as provided in the Education Code, or as necessary to meet requirements of federal law.[7]
  1. A school or community college district may not hire a consultant to develop and implement strategies to support a bond measure.[8]

ALLOWABLE ACTIVITIES

  1. School funds, services, supplies, and equipment may be used to provide information to the public about the possible effects of any bond issue or other ballot measure if the following conditions are met:
    • The information activities are otherwise lawful; and
    • The information provided is a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment on the matter.[9]
  1. A forum under the control of the governing board of a school district or community college district may be used if the forum is made available to all sides on an equitable basis. [10]
  1. School officials may adopt policies related to school officers and employees engaging in political activities during working hours.[11]
  1. School officials may adopt policies related to political activities on school property.[12]
  1. School officials may adopt policies allowing the placement of school board candidate endorsements in school office mailboxes.[13]
  1. School officials may adopt resolutions endorsing or opposing a ballot measure.[14]
  1. School officials may allow employees to take up to two hours off work, without loss of pay, if needed to permit them to vote.[15]

Note:  School districts and county offices of education are required to post a notice to employees informing them of their right to such a leave of absence to vote at least 10 days before every statewide election.[16]

  1. School officials may prohibit election campaigning on Election Day by the public on school property beyond 100 feet when a public school building is designated as a polling place.[17]

EXAMPLES OF PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES

  • An employee of a county office of education may not use school funds to purchase items such as bumper stickers, posters, advertising “floats,” and television and radio “spots” in opposition to a ballot initiative.[18]
  • A superintendent may not send an e-mail disseminating campaign literature prepared by private proponents of a ballot initiative.
  • A school secretary may not use the school’s copy machine to make copies of campaign literature.
  • A director of a county office of education program may not direct employees to spend working time preparing materials to oppose a ballot measure.
  • A school may not conduct a public forum and debate at which only one side of an issue is presented.[19]
  • A personnel director in a school district may not promise a job applicant a position in the district in exchange for the applicant’s promise to vote for a ballot initiative.
  • School districts may ­not restrict employees from wearing political buttons in non-instructional settings on school property, including Back-to-School Night.

EXAMPLES OF ALLOWABLE ACTIVITIES

  • A classroom teacher, in his or her private capacity, may make an appearance before the City Council during non-working hours to urge the Council’s support of a ballot measure.
  • A member of a school district governing board and a district superintendent may appear during working hours before a citizens’ group that requested such an appearance to respond to questions from the group regarding a ballot measure.[20]
  • An assistant superintendent of a county office of education may reply to an e-mail from a concerned parent providing the parent with a fair presentation of the facts related to a ballot measure.
  • A school district may hold a public forum at which proponents and opponents of a ballot measure may appear and freely express their views on a ballot measure.[21]

EXAMPLES OF ALLOWABLE ACTIVITIES (cont’d.)

  • A school facility may be rented out to proponents of a ballot measure to hold a meeting, and the facility is also made available on an equitable basis to opponents of the ballot measure.
  • A school district governing board may adopt a policy restricting employees from wearing political buttons in instructional settings.[22]
  • A school principal may direct an employee to remove a large campaign sign from the employee’s private vehicle parked in the school parking lot (or park the vehicle off school property) where the sign is visible to students in class and the public.[23]
  • A county board of education may adopt a resolution endorsing a ballot measure during a regularly scheduled meeting which is open to the public.

[1] Cal. Educ. Code §7051. [2] Id. at §7054(a). [3] Id. at §7054(b). [4] Id. at §7054(c). [5] Id. at §7054(a). [6] Id. at §7053. [7] Id. at §7052. [8] Op.Atty.Gen. 04-211 (April 7, 2005) [9] Id. at §7054(b). [10]  Id. at §7058. [11] Id. at §7055(a). [12] Id. at §7055(b). [13] San Leandro Teachers Ass’n v. Governing Bd. of San Leandro Unified School Dist., 46 Cal.4th 822 (2009). [14] Choice-in-Education League v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 17 Cal.App.4th 415 (1993). [15] Cal. Elec. Code §14000. [16] Cal. Elec. Code §14001. [17] 75 Cal.Ops.Atty.Gen. 232 (Oct. 8, 1992). [18] Stanson v. Mott, 130 Cal.Rptr. 697 (1976). [19] Choice-in-Education League v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 17 Cal.App.4th 415 (1993). [20] Cal. Educ. Code §7054.1. [21] Choice-in-Education League v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 17 Cal.App.4th 415 (1993). [22] CTA v. Governing Board of San Diego Unified School District, 45 Cal.App.4th 1383 (1996). [23] Wilmar Teachers Association, Cal. PERB Dec. No. 1371 (2000).