In a report Jan. 3 to Five Town CSD board, School Superintendent Maria Libby continued the effort by school officials to justify kicking Owen Casas off a school committee.

Casas, who has been elected by the people to serve both as a Rockport selectman and a state legislator, was booted from the committee because School Board Chairman Matt Dailey didn't like the fact that the school received a Freedom of Access Request for documents from a citizen, who had talked to Casas about it.

"Board Chair Matt Dailey's concern was Owen's lack of professional courtesy in not revealing his involvement in the FOAA request to the board," Libby wrote. "It was not the FOAA request itself, as people have mistakenly assumed. In all the talk about the public's right to know, which I fully endorse, there should also be mention of the public's responsibility not to use that right frivolously or to pursue a personal agenda."

The problem with this statement is that it could discourage citizens from filing requests for documents, which is their right. Put more simply, the superintendent is wrong.

There is no frivolous use of the Freedom of Access Act. It is there to ensure that government — including school districts paid for with tax dollars — remains "of the people, by the people and for the people." Any citizen at any time for any reason may request public documents from the school system.

There is no "but." There is no responsibility on the part of citizens to limit their use of their rights. There is no responsibility of the citizens to not have an agenda for their research.

School officials should not get angry with people for taking advantage of their rights, and they certainly should not retaliate in any way.

In addition, we do not expect or desire professional courtesy from our elected officials and appointed school committee members. They are there to serve the public interest, and they do not need to toe the line or stick to a script given to them by the committee chair, school board chairperson or any school administrator.

They may question. They may rabble-rouse. They may disagree. They may talk to the public and press off-script and without permission from the chairman or the superintendent.

The attempt by school leaders to silence a dissenting voice is wrong. Kicking a person off a committee for having a dissenting voice actively manipulates the outcome of the committee's work and undermines the credibility of that committee.

Libby goes on to say:

"…I just hope the distraction of a few disgruntled citizens doesn't prevent us from doing the important work of providing the best possible education possible for the students in our communities."

We see this all the time. The group that disagrees with the leadership's agenda is always characterized as a small, vocal minority.

Instead of trying to silence or negate a dissenting voice, why not listen and understand and respond with simple, reasoned arguments?

The principle of freedom of access is what matters here.

Those who feel the old school should be torn down may be right. The struggle with what to do with old school buildings has been a problem in Rockland and Union and many other towns. People hate to see schools they attended torn down, even once they have been replaced by better facilities. At some point, some buildings will have to be torn down to make room for the future.

That said, even those who know best serving on governing boards have to remember that they serve at the will of the people. The community may want to keep this school building a bit longer, and school leaders may have to accept that.

We aren't pushing an agenda as to what actually happens. We only care that the process is fair and that all are heard. And we must rigorously and consistently defend our right to freedom of access in an era when the government routinely tramples rights and attacks the press for defending them.

Just this past week, we watched a Louisiana teacher dragged from a school board meeting in handcuffs after the school board president found her out of order for complaining about teacher pay in a meeting. Citizens haven't seen anything like that in Camden, Maine, but the only way to keep it that way is to send a clear message that the residents here will not accept any curtailment of their rights.