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Frequent Critic Suing Schools

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A longtime critic of Albuquerque Public Schools is suing the school district, contending APS is violating his First Amendment rights by banning him from school board meetings.

Ched MacQuigg, in a District Court lawsuit filed Friday, alleged his “outspoken nature and unrelenting scrutiny” have angered the district, resulting in retaliation and the denial of his right to speak at public meetings.

Board member Martin Esquivel said he imposed the ban on MacQuigg two years ago when he was school board president because of MacQuigg’s conduct, not the content of his speech. Esquivel said MacQuigg was given warnings and opportunities to sit down with APS officials and get the ban lifted, but he never did.

“The bottom line is that all he had to do is sit down and have a conversation with us, to say, ‘Can you abide by a certain set of rules that are conduct-based, not content-based?’” he said.

Esquivel, an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues, said he is confident the board has not unfairly limited MacQuigg’s free speech rights.

“I’m very sensitive to how the law should work in terms of people having a right to express themselves, and I have absolutely no reservations about doing what we did as it pertains to Mr. MacQuigg,” Esquivel said.

The suit seeks to have the ban lifted and also seeks damages against APS. It names APS as a whole, as well as Esquivel, board member David Robbins, superinten dent Winston Brooks, school police chief Steve Tellez and communications staffers Monica Armenta and Rigo Chavez.

MacQuigg is represented by attorneys John Boyd and Vincent Ward.

MacQuigg is a retired APS teacher who has sued the district multiple times and has repeatedly run for a seat on the board. Before he was banned from board meetings in September 2010, MacQuigg spoke at nearly every meeting, mostly asking members why board policy did not include the language of Character Counts!, a character education program he strongly supports. He also questioned the ethics of APS as a whole, and individual employees and board members.

MacQuigg’s lawsuit takes issue with the fact that he was ejected from board and committee meetings and was not allowed to attend an APS-sponsored gubernatorial debate. MacQuigg also contends he has been denied public records.

Chavez, the APS records custodian, said “Albuquerque Public Schools follows the letter and the spirit of the state Inspection of Public Records Act, and has done so in this case.”

Esquivel wrote an initial letter to MacQuigg in November 2009, outlining problems with his behavior and warning him the board might take further action. The letter, sent after Esquivel ejected MacQuigg from a board meeting, said MacQuigg leveled personal attacks against individuals, spoke out of order at meetings, wore a mask, and refused to take it off when asked. MacQuigg said he wore an elephant mask to represent himself as “the elephant in the room.”

“Your conduct in shouting out responses and questions at meetings is completely unacceptable,” Esquivel wrote.