In February, Adam Martinez—the parent of a Robb Elementary School shooting survivor—was banned from Uvalde school board meetings following his public criticism of the school district's hiring of a certain police officer. However, following the threat of legal action, the school district has now reversed course and lifted its ban against Martinez.
Following the 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Martinez—like many parents whose children survived the tragedy—became a vocal critic of the Uvalde police department, which had attracted national attention for its failure to act quickly when the shooting began.
On February 13, Martinez attended a Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) School Board meeting with the intention of voicing his opposition to the district's decision to hire a police officer that the Uvalde County Sheriff's Office had deemed "ineligible for rehire."
At the meeting, Martinez approached Joshua Gutierrez, the UCISD police chief, and criticized the decision to hire the new officer. Though Gutierrez told Martinez to sit down, Martinez continued speaking to him. According to a letter sent to the school district's board of trustees by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment nonprofit, video recordings from the meeting show that the conversation remained "quiet and did not disrupt the meeting."
However, that didn't keep Gutierrez from retaliating. According to FIRE's letter, he "lashed out by banning Mr. Martinez from all school district property and escorting Mr. Martinez and his family from the building." The next day, the ban was formalized when Gary Patterson, UCISD's interim superintendent, sent Martinez a "formal criminal trespass warning banning him from all school district property, including School Board meetings, for two years."
FIRE sent the letter to the board of trustees in May demanding that the ban against Martinez be lifted, threatening a lawsuit should the school refuse.
"UCISD banned Mr. Martinez simply for raising concerns about whom the school district was hiring to protect the district's children, an issue of understandable importance for Uvalde parents, like Mr. Martinez. In doing so, UCISD has violated and is continuing to violate the First Amendment," reads the demand letter. "There can be little doubt that if Mr. Martinez had approached Chief Gutierrez at the February 13th School Board meeting and praised his performance, Mr. Martinez would not be subject to a criminal trespass warning."
While the letter demanded a response by May 22, the school district agreed to lift its ban last week.
"The school district's administrators overstepped their authority," FIRE attorney Josh Bleisch said in a Friday press release. "We're glad they finally came to their senses, but it shouldn't take the threat of a lawsuit to remind them that the Constitution does not allow them to use their power to silence their critics."
However, district officials hardly seem repentant for their attempt to stifle critics.
"The district did not wish to engage in legal action, which would require staff time and taxpayer resources in a frivolous suit," a UCISD spokesperson told the Uvalde Leader-News, "The district has attempted to work with Mr. Martinez over the last months, complying with and approving each request he has made…. Instead he chose to engage FIRE to threaten legal action."
The spokesperson added that, after the ban was lifted, Martinez was "informed that the ban could be reinstated if there are any recurrences of the behaviors exhibited at the February board meeting."