It was bad enough that Swampscott school officials ordered the parents of high-school students to attend a presentation on drug and alcohol abuse. What happened when people showed up for the mandatory January 10 meeting, though, made matters considerably worse.

free speech offender Lynne Celli
According to an account in the Salem News, the media were barred from covering the event. News reporter Ethan Forman was allowed in on the grounds that he was the father of a Swampscott High School student. Once he was inside, though, a plainclothes detective reportedly tried to kick him out. Parents were told they would not be allowed to speak. And when one father tried to make himself heard despite the gag rule, his wife said a police officer threatened to arrest him and charge him with disorderly conduct.

The high-school principal, Layne Millington, defended the session on the grounds that drugs are bad and the children are our future. But the Muzzle goes to superintendent of schools LYNNE CELLI, who enthusiastically took part in the fiasco and who, as the school system's chief executive, has ultimate responsibility.

"What should have been an open discussion of a serious problem turned into an exercise in authoritarianism and censorship," the News editorialized. Added the Swampscott Reporter: "It appears they had good intentions but the new superintendent and the new Swampscott High School principal have given Swampscott a black eye."

After the January 10 meeting, Celli said a second meeting would be held at which parents could speak. "That was our plan from the beginning," she was quoted as saying. The purpose of the first meeting, she added, was "to give them the information so they could go home and think about it."

Yes, of course. There's no better way to start a constructive dialogue than by browbeating and silencing people.

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