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Hampton Resident Seeks AG Input On Whether School Board Restricted Free Speech

Courtesy of SAU 90

A parent in Hampton wants the state attorney general to intervene after, she says, local school board officials restricted her right to free speech.

Theschool district is in turmoil as officials investigate a claim their middle school principal created a hostile environment.

Parents have taken to social media to call the investigation unfair, instead criticizing Hampton superintendent Kathleen Murphy’s handling of the situation.

It comes just months after a local family left Hampton schools, saying their daughter was bullied for being black and that Murphy and other school officials didn’t do enough to respond.

Local resident Ann Marie Banfield tried to raise both these issues at the start of public comment during this week’s school board meeting. Board chair Les Shepard quickly cut her off.

“So I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we can’t talk about student matters, okay?” Shepard said. “And we really shouldn’t be talking about something that’s going to adversely affect the reputation of someone.”

“So you’re limiting my speech?” Banfield asked. “I just want clarification – would you like me to stop speaking about this?”

Shepard replied, “Yes.”

Banfield says she’s spoken to school board members in other towns, as well as other local officials in Hampton, and some have expressed concerns about this exchange.

She shared one email from Hampton select board member Regina Barnes, who was at the school board meeting.

“I would argue your comments were limited,” Barnes wrote to Banfield. “Any policies that hinder communication between elected officials, the public and town staff, should be discouraged vigorously.”

Banfield also notified the state of the exchange, asking for clarification on her right to talk about these issues at a public school board meeting.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said Thursday that Banfield’s request is still being screened.

Nearly 300 Hampton parents have signed a petition calling for a vote of no confidence in their superintendent. They delivered it to the school board, which has not taken up the request.

This story has been updated.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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