Task force recommends striking language prohibiting criticism of Shawnee Mission board members from open forum policy

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At its first full meeting since three new members were seated and Brad Stratton become president, the Shawnee Mission Board of Education on Monday held a public discussion on changing a district policy that has gotten significant criticism over the past several months.

A task force made up of members Patty Mach, Deb Zila and Laura Guy reported back to the rest of the board with recommendations about changes to the “open forum policy” that restricts criticism of board members and prohibits mentioning an employee by name as presently written. That policy prompted legal threats from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the restrictions constitute a violation of the First Amendment.

Mach told attendees at Monday’s meeting that she, Zila and Guy had discussed the current policy and reviewed policies by other governing bodies.

The most significant changes proposed by the trio include:

  • Changing the name from “open forum” to “public comment” to better reflect the purpose of the section of the meetings.
  • Arranging for district staff to research information on topics of interest to the public if a patron submits a request to speak by Friday afternoon. So if a patron were to file a request to speak about concerns with the lunch schedule at his child’s school, for instance, the district would be able to compile some information for the patron ahead of the Monday meeting, and may be able to answer his questions there.
  • Removing the prohibition on criticizing board members that is currently in the board policy manual approved last year. “I will tell you right now that we would all, I think, recommend, on the task force, to strike from the document,” Zila said.

The other members of the board had not seen the trio’s recommendations prior to Monday night. Mach asked that board members review the draft proposal she distributed to them, and be prepared to have a more detailed discussion about possible changes at the worksession ahead of next month’s board meeting. Mach also invited members of the public to contact her with suggestions or feedback on the proposal. (You can email Mach here).

The full proposal document is embedded below.

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