During an open forum portion of a Shawnee Mission School District board meeting on May 22, a parent was cut off while commenting on an alleged conflict of interest involving a vote by a specific board member. Sara Goodburn, school board president, interrupted the parent and would not allow him to finish his comment, citing a new school board policy that prohibits community members from directly referencing specific district employees in comments made during board meetings.
The ACLU of Kansas is gravely concerned that the new policy is a violation of the First Amendment, which grants people the right to criticize both elected officials and other public servants. Further troubling, the policy prevents members of the public from commenting on the stewardship of public officials that are entrusted with key responsibilities for carrying out the functions of an institution as important as a public school district. On May 30, Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director, sent a letter to President Goodburn and board members outlining these concerns and urging the board to reconsider the policy.
The ACLU of Kansas received no response to the letter sent on May 30. On November 27, the board moved to officially adopt a policy deeming "complaints against individual board members and/or individual employees" "inappropriate for open forum". It’s worth noting that compliments of specific employees/members of the board are not banned.
On December 6, the ACLU of Kansas sent another letter to the Shawnee Mission School Board expressing are continued dedication to protecting the First Amendment rights of Shawnee Mission residents and urging the board to reconsider the policy.
"Shawnee Mission school board can't muzzle public", The Kansas City Star, 6/1/2017
"ACLU calls Kan. school district board meeting policy 'unconstitutional'", The Salina Post, 6/1/2017
"ACLU of Kansas: Shawnee Mission School District policy is 'unconstitutional'", The Kansas City Star, 5/31/2017
"Shawnee Mission school board's new open forum restrictions draw rebuke from ACLU, which says guideline is unconstitutional", The Shawnee Mission Post, 5/30/2017