Shawnee Mission revisits ban on complaints against board

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The governing body for the state’s third-largest school district is considering reversing a rule that prohibits complaints about school board members.

At issue is a policy regarding public participation at meetings in the nearly 28,000-student Shawnee Mission school district in suburban Kansas City. The policy came under fire in November, when the board added school board members to the list of individuals that shouldn’t be publicly criticized. The school board had previously prevented the public from speaking about matters related to individual employees and students during public comments for privacy reasons, The Kansas City Star reports.

The ACLU decried the change as “clearly unconstitutional.” Since then, three board members retired or weren’t re-elected, leading the board to revisit the change.

Board members tasked with reviewing the policy said Monday that they’d be willing to strike the ban on criticizing board members. But they also warned that official changes would likely take time, as the board continues to consult experts and collect public feedback.

“One of the things that’s in there is about criticizing board members,” board member Debra Zila said as the board reviewed a draft document created by a new task force. “I’ll tell you right now that that’s something we would all, I think at least on the task force, recommend to strike from that document.”

The board plans to discuss policy changes at its board workshop next month as it reviews a preliminary draft of amended policy.

The ACLU has maintained that any restriction related to public speech is unconstitutional and that individuals have as much of a right to criticize individual school employees as they do elected officials.

It is unlikely that the board will remove language prohibiting public complaints regarding students and staff. Most districts in Kansas discourage or ban the practice in an effort to protect privacy, and language in the policy draft currently being considered by the board suggests that the public will likely be required to submit such complaints to administration in writing or present them to the board in executive session.

Information from: The Kansas City Star,

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