Shawnee Mission doubles down; insists its violation of student rights during April student walkouts was justified, necessary

Sept. 5, 2018
CONTACT: Mark McCormick, director of strategic communications, 913-490-4113, [email protected]
OVERLAND PARK, KS - The Shawnee Mission School district has filed a motion in U.S. District Court to dismiss an ACLU of Kansas lawsuit brought on behalf of student first amendment rights arguing that its actions in interrupting protests, taking student journalists’ cameras and punishing participants was protected.
The motion, filed Aug. 31, claims that the district was within its rights in the actions it took during April 20 student rallies because members of the public might believe the district, not students, had sponsored the walkouts.
“This is disappointing,” said the ACLU’s Legal Director Lauren Bonds. “Instead of simply acknowledging their violation of student first amendment rights, the district appears to be doubling down on the mistakes they’ve made.
“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 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.
In April, students nationwide left class, staged protests decrying gun violence in schools. In most cases, students walked out of class, held their rallies and then returned without incident.
But in Shawnee Mission, students reported hovering administrators prohibiting them from using the words “gun” or “gun violence” at the anti-gun violence rallies, abruptly cancelling the events, and then confiscating copies of their remarks. 
Some students reported that they’d faced retaliatory measures – suspensions or detentions -- at school for participating in the demonstrations.
A Shawnee Mission North student journalist said an administrator demanded her camera as she covered the rally for her student newspaper.
Bonds said, “We understand school administrators have a responsibility to maintain order, but those responsibilities do not extend to denying students’ rights to free speech nor restricting their freedom of press rights. Students don’t leave their first amendment rights at the school steps.”
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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 at