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Public Assembly policy reflects right to assemble and federal privacy law

Casey M Fryda

Wednesday September 5, 2018
A statement from Vice President of College Advancement Karen Smits:
  
Religious beliefs are not relevant to this incident. We have clubs and activities around a variety of beliefs and experiences, from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship to advanced manufacturing to enrolling at college after age 50. The student was stopped by Security in an area that is not for the public. Had she been holding anything else—or nothing—she would still have prompted a call to Security.

NWTC recognizes the First Amendment rights of all individuals, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression and public assembly. NWTC also recognizes its responsibility to provide a secure learning environment that allows individuals to express their views in ways that do not disrupt the operation of the College (e.g., picketing or mass distribution of materials).

The Public Assembly Policy establishes space at NWTC where picketing and mass distribution of literature can occur freely without interfering with students and the business operation of the College. This does not limit what participants can say or distribute (within legal limits). The law recognizes that, unlike a public park, not all physical areas of educational institutions can be open for public assembly. The Public Assembly Policy provides a process that allows students and non-students to reserve this space.

Aside from the Assembly policy, there are certain areas of any educational institution that handle confidential records. Any student who enters a confidential work area is expected to check in with staff before proceeding. Permission and a valid business purpose are needed for anyone to enter certain areas of the college that handle confidential records. When the student was stopped by Security (responding to a call), she was in one of these areas without a business purpose, as described in the incident report attached to the suit. For the same reason, visitors do not walk behind desks in a doctor’s office. Some areas need to have more restricted access.

The College strongly supports free exchange of ideas and we applaud students who are passionate about making change for what they believe. Free speech is encouraged throughout the College and it happens every day. This particular occurrence is not about free speech. The content of her message was irrelevant; the issue is where she was at the time of the occurrence.

We take student concerns about free speech seriously and we take our legal responsibility to protect student records seriously as well.
 
The policy in question has been under review since October 2017 and is in the final stages of revision and approval. The student referred to in the lawsuit was invited to participate in the review to provide a student perspective. The College’s current Assembly Policy can be found here: https://www.nwtc.edu/NWTC/media/About-Us/Public-Assembly-Policy.pdf
 
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