LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – A popular online forum for Los Lunas school parents has drawn the ire of the school district, which is now demanding the forum be shut down immediately over alleged “trademark infringement.”
While the school district claims the online forum is “misleading,” the moderators behind the forum say the district is trying to squash free speech.
“I definitely feel that this is about control, this is about First Amendment rights,” said Rowena Tachias, one of the moderators of the Facebook group at the center of the issue.
Tachias and Monique Dereta co-founded the “Los Lunas School District Parents Discussion Page” in 2011. The two parents, who’ve both had kids and grandkids in Los Lunas schools say the page started as a forum to discuss candidates for an upcoming school board election.
Since then, the “members only” group has grown to nearly 3,000 members discussing various matters about Los Lunas schools.
“There’s absolutely no reason why you cannot criticize, praise, comment on a public entity, we were never doing anything wrong,” said Tachias, who spoke to KRQE News 13 via FaceTime from out-of-state Wednesday.
However, the district disagrees, accusing Tachias and Dereta of trademark infringement. The district recently sent the co-founders a cease and desists letter, asking the group’s co-founders to “refrain from any and all further acts of infringement including removal of the unauthorized social media account on Facebook.”
“When we read it, it was shock, it was disbelief, it came out of nowhere,” said Tachias.
While the group is “members only” and doesn’t claim official sponsorship by the district, Tachias says
The district has long been at odds with what people talk about inside the group.
“I really feel like we were targeted,” said Tachias.
Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Dana Sanders refused on-camera interview with KRQE News 13 Wednesday. The district provided a statement instead, accusing the “Los Lunas School District Parents Discussion Page” of housing “misinformation and misleading commentary” that “confuses the public and causes issues with the orderly operations of the school district.”
“The Los Lunas School District Parent Discussion Facebook Page is often mistaken as a forum that is monitored and approved by district officials. When searching Facebook, this site is one of the first pages that appears, leading the community to believe that the site belongs to the Los Lunas Schools. Information on the page is then interpreted as correct and factual. On the contrary, there is often misinformation and misleading commentary that confuses the public and causes issues with the orderly operations of individual schools and the district. It is common place for public entities to protect their intellectual property by trademarking their name and/or logo. For example, APS as well as public universities such as UNM and NMSU have trademarked their name and logos to protect the interests of the institution. No further comment will be made due to pending litigation.”–Dana Sanders, Los Lunas Schools Superintendent
“I’d like to see the data, how many people have been confused,” said Tachias in response to the district’s statement.
Tachias says she and her co-founder will keep the group online, defying district superintendent Sanders’ request.
“I don’t answer to you, Ms. Sanders,” said Tachias.
KRQE News 13 also showed the ACLU of New Mexico a copy of the cease and desist letter sent by Los Lunas Schools, which said the district’s actions raise “serious questions” about if the district is trying to chill parents First Amendment right to criticize a government agency.
“It’s deeply troubling that Los Lunas Schools would go to such great lengths to prevent parents from referring to the district by name when raising their concerns about school matters through a Facebook group. It raises serious questions about whether the cease-and-desist letter is retaliatory and intended to chill parents’ First Amendment right to criticize a government agency.”–Leon Howard, ACLU New Mexico Legal Director
Before sending the cease and desist letter, the district spent $225 to trademark the phrase “Los Lunas Schools.”