ACLU calls for Shawnee school board to end complaint ban
SHAWNEE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has called for a school district in the Kansas City area to eliminate a policy prohibiting public complaints about individuals at board meetings.
The ACLU sent a letter to the Shawnee Mission school board Dec. 6 saying a new open forum policy approved last month violates constitutional rights to free speech, the Kansas City Star reported.
The school board’s new policy requires speakers who participate in the open forum section of school board meetings to present information in a “positive” and “constructive way.” The policy says complaints against individual school board members or individual employees are considered inappropriate for the open forum and must be submitted in writing to the superintendent or board president.
Doug Bonney, legal director emeritus for the ACLU, said the First Amendment and case law give individuals the right to express “vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
The letter is the second one Bonney has sent the district regarding its open forum policy. Bonney wrote to the district in May when former Board President Sara Goodburn told a parent he couldn’t criticize another school board member by name. The parent had expressed concerns that the member had a conflict of interest when she voted on a contract earlier in the year. Bonney said the district was violating the First Amendment at that time as well.
Board members have said the restrictions related to individual employees are meant to protect the privacy of staff and prevent defamation.