In the months following graduated Shawnee Mission student Kessler Lichtenegger’s arrest for sexually assaulting a minor and revelations that he had faced similar charges for sexually assaulting a fellow SM East student four years earlier, the school district has adopted what Director of Safety and Security John Douglass characterizes as a “more aggressive” procedure to devise education plans for students facing criminal charges.
Douglass said that the district has codified an internal procedure that requires the district’s Associate Superintendent Over Instruction and Director of Secondary Education to meet with the building principal and Douglass to develop an individual education plan for students who have been indicted. The administrators work to develop an education plan that “guarantees the safety of others” and “drives the most protection” for all involved.
Though he declined to comment on specific cases, Douglass acknowledged that the district had employed the procedure “on a couple of occasions” since this summer.
Word that Lichtenegger had been allowed to continue attending SM East after assaulting a classmate in 2011 caused a wave of protest from members of the school community, who wondered why he wasn’t removed from the building — particularly considering that his victim was forced to see him in the halls and in classrooms.
In an interview Friday, Douglass reiterated that Kansas law poses a challenge to school districts because it requires them to provide a “free and unencumbered” education to students regardless of their legal issues. Other states allow school districts more leeway in kicking out students who are deemed a threat to others. While Kansas districts are not required to provide students their education at any particular facility, Douglass noted that the district is required to provide them an education.
“It is a very thorny situation because we take an individual out of a school because it’s not safe for him to be there, and you move him to another school and people wonder whether it’s safe for him to be at that new school,” he said.
Lichtenegger was sentenced to 17 years in prison last week for the latest charges.