The fate of York City's New Hope Academy Charter School rests in the hands of a three-judge panel.

The city school board revoked the academy's charter in 2012, a state appeals court upheld the decision last year and now the school's students', parents' and teachers' hopes lie with the Commonwealth Court.

Attorneys for the district and the charter school made their cases during a March 10 hearing; all the two sides can do now is wait for the court's decision, which could come at any time.

But they don't have to wait quietly.

They can make controversial statements about the school's students to a television news crew, as board president Margie Orr did after this month's hearing.

And they can again plead with the board to keep the school open, as New Hope supporters tried to do at a meeting last week.

Orr might wish she'd kept her thoughts to herself.

Her comment — "Why waste a school day on these kids? I mean, their grades are already in the toilet" — created quite a backlash in the community.

But neither Orr nor anyone else on the board has the right to silence those who don't share her views.

District officials likely violated Pennsylvania law and the First Amendment when they restricted public comment at a school board meeting Wednesday, according Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.


Board members told a packed room of New Hope supporters they could not comment about anything related to New Hope, which will close after this academic year unless the school's latest appeal is successful.

The board also prohibited comment from people under 18 and those who failed to fill out a registration form at least two days before the meeting.

The parents of two New Hope students have since filed a lawsuit alleging the district violated Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act, which guarantees residents and taxpayers "a reasonable opportunity" to comment at each advertised meeting of public agencies, such as school boards.

We have to agree with the parents: The board was unreasonable.

Maybe the board members figured the matter was out of their hands and everything had been said that needed to be said. Perhaps they were tired or bored and just didn't want to hear it anymore.

Well, too bad. These people had a right to speak their minds, even if it irritated the board.

Coincidentally, last week also happened to be Sunshine Week, which organizers describe as "a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information."

The York City school board's action certainly sparked debate.

"I think it raises significant Sunshine Act and constitutional issues," Melewsky said.

The school board cited serious issues in revoking New Hope's charter, and it might very well win the appeal.

But it lost a golden opportunity to teach students and community members a lesson in good government.