ACLU sends letter of concern to SMSD that board meeting policy violates first amendment

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- A battle to protect free speech is underway in the Shawnee Mission School District.

The ACLU has sent another warning, claiming one of the district’s policies is unconstitutional.

During Board of Education meetings, you are not allowed to criticize a board member by name during the open forum part of the meeting.

If you do, you will be told to leave.

The ACLU of Kansas believes this policy violates that person’s right to free speech.

The ACLU sent a letter of concern to the Shawnee Mission School Board back in May but did not receive a response.

"Gravely concerned that the new policy is a violation of the First Amendment, which grants people to right to criticize both elected officials and other public servants,” the ACLU wrote.

Then last week the school board once again adopted a policy calling all complaints against board members inappropriate for open forum.

So on Wednesday, the ACLU sent a second letter urging the school board to reconsider its policy.

School Board Members have gone on record stating their concern is the spread of misinformation. When someone criticizes a board member by name in public, there is the possibility of slander against the accused.

But on the other hand, the first amendment does give people the right to criticize public servants and elected officials such as school board members.

It’s worth noting school boards do not have to let the public to speak during their meetings. Those that do have certain guidelines and many also do not allow people to criticize employees or students by name.

Fox 4 reached out to the Shawnee Mission School District for comment, they issued the following statement:

“The Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education is in receipt of the letter from the ACLU dated December 6. Once the Board of Education has had an opportunity to review the items outlined in the letter in consultation with legal counsel, a thorough response will be provided.

As the Board continues its procedures, it will take the comments in the letter into consideration as it balances the privacy rights of individual students and employees with the free speech rights of individual citizens.

Due to the pending transition of board membership that will take place on January 8th, the board will review these procedures after the first of the year.

Brad Stratton

Shawnee Mission School District

Board of Education

Vice President, At-Large Member”

Their next board meeting is Monday, Jan. 8, and those who want to speak will have to continue to follow their policy of not criticizing anyone by name.