"The ACLU has not requested any student educational records,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas. “We have only requested emails about the walkouts which we do not believe are covered by FERPA. The District has chosen to characterize these emails as educational records which we believe is both an incorrect interpretation of FERPA but also understandably causing alarm amongst parents."
NO, SMSD PARENTS, THE ACLU OF KANSAS HAS NOT REQUESTED ANY STUDENT EDUCATION RECORDS—ONLY THE APRIL WALKOUT EMAILS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Mark McCormick, Director of Strategic Communications, 913-490-4113, firstname.lastname@example.org
OVERLAND PARK, KS - The ACLU of Kansas, in response to calls of alarm, is reassuring Shawnee Mission School District parents that the civil rights and civil liberties organization has not requested any student “educational” information from the district.
Numerous parents have received fear-mongering letters from the district suggesting that under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), “educational records pertaining to your child may be disclosed,” in response to the ACLU of Kansas’s First Amendment lawsuit filed in June against the district.
The letter, which has prompted numerous calls to the ACLU’s Overland Park office, goes on to say that the district “has been asked to produce information and documents which will likely include your child’s educational records.”
It concludes, “this letter… serves as official notification by the District.”
The ACLU of Kansas is actively working with the District to resolve the lawsuit without further litigation, Bonds said.
In April, students nationwide left class and staged protests decrying gun violence in schools. In most cases, students walked out of class, held their rallies and returned without incident.
In Shawnee Mission, however, students reported hovering administrators prohibiting them from using the words “gun” or “gun violence” at the anti-gun violence rallies, abruptly canceling the events, then confiscating copies of their remarks.
A Shawnee Mission North student journalist said an administrator demanded her camera as she covered the rally for her student newspaper. Some students reported that they’d faced retaliatory measures – suspensions or detentions -- at school for participating in the demonstrations.
After trying to resolve the matter without litigation, the ACLU of Kansas sued the district in June.
In August, the district filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming it was within its rights to halt the rallies, confiscate speeches and cameras and later punish participating students.
The ACLU of Kansas’ response to this latest effort to prolong this disagreement is the same as its previous response.
“Instead of simply acknowledging their violation of student first amendment rights, the district appears to be doubling down on the mistakes they’ve made,” Bonds reiterated. “We wouldn’t have even filed the lawsuit had the district simply acknowledged what they’d done wrong and changed its policy.”
The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief – a ruling from the court ordering the school district to stop violating students’ rights.
Bonds has said students should be learning about the unlawfulness of prior restraint in journalism class, not having it demonstrated by school administrators.
“…it has become clear … that the school district is more concerned about retroactively justifying its actions than it is with remedying its free-speech and free-press violations. Nor does the Shawnee Mission School District concede that its policies and actions were unconstitutional,” the suit said.
# # #
About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website atwww.aclukansas.org.