Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
In case you didn’t notice, it’s election season. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the property was being littered with campaign signs from the summer primary, I recently noticed that a candidate for state office has used school property and images of my school in his campaign literature. As the principal of the school and its leader, I’d rather not be affiliated with any candidate. I know schools are public property. However, I am concerned that the images of the school may give voters the wrong impression.
It’s the Principle of the Thing
Dear Principled Principal:
I applaud your energy and concern for things beyond your control. However, you and your school district cannot prohibit someone from taking a picture of your school and using it as a backdrop, even for a political campaign.
To be sure, there are certain related situations over which the school district has control over images of your school. For example, if someone used a picture of your school and purported to be speaking for the school, such a communication would be unauthorized and actionable. Similarly, you can restrict the use of the school name or logo for commercial gain. However, here the candidate has simply chosen an image of your school as a generic “school” to convey his or her support for education. In the absence of any representation that your school endorses him or her, Legal Mailbag suggests that you not worry further about the campaign materials.
Speaking of principles, you should also know that your school district has the right to prohibit political activity on school property. School boards have authority over “the care, maintenance and operation of buildings, lands, apparatus and other property used for school purposes,” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220(a), and your board of education can prohibit political activity on school property under its jurisdiction. To be sure, the school board may also permit use of school property for community events, including political events. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-239. If any political activity is allowed, however, the school district must treat all candidates similarly, and the district would invite a First Amendment claim if it gave one candidate access to school property and denied that same access to another candidate. Here, I would not begrudge a candidate a picture of your school to include in his or her campaign materials, but I would be clear with that candidate and all candidates that electioneering on school property is not allowed unless and only if there is a sanctioned campaign event at your school.