By Aaron Owen
Nearly 200 members of the district community filed through the doors of the Broadway Performance Hall Thursday evening April 5 to voice opposition and outrage at the proposed changes to Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 132F. The new codes, first proposed by Seattle Community College District administrators during spring break, would radically limit free expression and demonstrations on Central, North, and South Seattle Community College campuses.
The changes to WAC 132F would restrict any unregistered noncollege group from displaying signs larger than three feet by five feet and from carrying more than one sign per person. The allowed time and duration of free expression activities would also be limited to no more than 5 hours between 7:00am and 10:00pm, and would be confined to designated zones on each campus.
Additionally, noncollege groups would be required to notify the college of their free expression activities at least 24 hours ahead and include the nature and purpose of the event, the estimated number of participants, name, address, and telephone number of a contact representing the sponsors, as well as more information on the event. Any failure of noncollege groups to adhere to these and other rules laid down by the proposed WAC 132F could lead to their classification as trespassers, subjecting them to ejection from the premises or even arrest at the discretion of college administrators.
The hearing on April 5 was the second at which the public was encouraged to comment on the proposed WAC changes, and will be summarized along with an earlier hearing on March 27 and presented to the Board of Trustees before their meeting on April 12. None of the Board of Trustees were announced present at the hearing. The only attending school officials that were named in attendance were President Paul Killpatrick, Chief Financial Officer Kurt Buddlemen, and Derek Edwards from the State Attorney General’s Office.
Filling the seats of the Broadway Performance Hall instead were the diverse many who are concerned the new WAC rules could stifle constitutionally protected free speech and the exercise of first amendment rights on community college campuses. Among the speakers was La Rond Baker, staff attorney at the ACLU of Washington, who strongly questioned the legality of many of the proposed codes under Washington state law. “The ACLU of Washington is here to voice our opposition to the proposed regulations on first amendment protected free speech activities,” said Baker. “In going through and reviewing the WACs we identified many constitutional violations.”
But the district considers the changes necessary to “balance the colleges’ responsibility to fulfill their mission as state educational institutions of Washington with the interests of college groups and noncollege groups who are interested in using the campus for purposes of constitutionally protected speech, assembly or expression,” as is worded within the revised WAC codes.
Some of the new codes, such as the ban on overnight camping, seem a direct response to the recent activities of Seattle Occupiers on the Seattle Central campus. The district has claimed, however, that the new codes are modeled after existing legislation at Wichita State University, an entity district spokesperson Patrica Paquette has called a “national model.” They also point to existing laws at other Washington State colleges such as Bellevue College and University of Washington, where unsanctioned overnight camping is not allowed.
However, many community members refute that the codes’ prior implementation at any college legitimizes their implementation in the Seattle Community College District. “We are not Wichita State,” said student Adam Horton at Thursday’s hearing. “We are a diverse, open-minded, accepting community college. Please let us be the example for others to follow.”
The District Board of Trustees will meet on Thursday April 12 at 4pm in the First Floor Board Room of the District Office, and will again accept public comment. The Board is expected to vote on the rules at its May 17 meeting.