JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – A mother of two who became angry and swore at a school board meeting because she didn't feel members did enough to address her concerns about bullying is trying to get her summary disorderly conduct conviction overturned.
A Cambria County judge heard testimony and arguments at Johanna Boratko's appeal hearing Tuesday and plans to take a couple days to review video of the March 1 meeting — and a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, WJAC-TV reported.
The ACLU and the 41-year-old woman's attorney contend her cursing is protected speech under the First Amendment.
The Greater Johnstown School District contends Boratko, 40, and her husband first raised concerns in February that their two sons were being bullied at the district's middle school. Boratko contends one son was so upset he began cutting himself and she told The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat at that time that seven to 10 students had been picking on that boy for three years.
"They tell him they hate him and he should just die," Boratko told the newspaper then.
When she raised the issue again at the March meeting, she lost her temper, Boratko said.
"After 2½ hours of a dog-and-pony show, I just lost it," she told WJAC.
A school resource officer charged her with disrupting a meeting — a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in jail — and disorderly conduct, a summary offense similar to a traffic ticket. Those charges were withdrawn, with police then filing two disorderly conduct citations. Police withdrew one and she was convicted of the other, which was the subject of the appeal, defense attorney Timothy Burns said Wednesday.
Boratka was ordered to pay more than $250 in court costs.
President Richard Unger said the school board plans to abide by the judge's ruling and use it to determine how to conduct meetings in the future.
Two other citizens, including a former school support staff employee who defended Boratko at the March meeting, have sued the district, saying its "public comment" rules are used to stifle debate and free speech.
Burns told The Associated Press that Boratko has apologized several times for her cursing and has "behaved herself" at several school board meetings since then.
As to her cursing, that "was offensive, but not illegal. It's not appropriate, but not illegal," said Burns, who expects the charge will be dismissed.