District weighs in on ACLU lawsuit, saying it engaged in ‘extensive discussions’ to resolve 1st Amendment concerns

Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick has met with students who complained about 1st Amendment issues following the demonstrations — but has not announced any substantive steps to address the alleged censorship.

Hours after the ACLU of Kansas filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Thursday morning alleging that the Shawnee Mission School District had violated the 1st Amendment rights of three students the day of the National School Walkout demonstrations, the district issued a statement acknowledging the case:

The Shawnee Mission School District was alerted by the media this morning that a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of three current students seeking, among other things, money damages from the district.

We cannot comment on pending legal matters, especially as it relates to specific students. However, the district has been, and continues to be, in communication with the ACLU, who is representing the three students, about its concerns regarding student speech. The district has been engaged in extensive discussions with parents and students to attempt to resolve concerns regarding student speech and has successfully resolved most parent and student concerns.

The district will continue its efforts to ensure that students’ free speech rights are respected and that students remain safe and secure in our schools.

Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick told the board of education at a special meeting May 7 that he had been meeting with students and staff members about the incidents, and indicated that he was considering including a training session on 1st Amendment issues as part of a summer retreat for administrators.

But some of the students and parents who had raised concerns about the walkouts say they felt the district was trying to justify the actions of administrators and was not forthcoming with acknowledgement that there had been missteps. ACLU legal director Lauren Bonds told KCUR that plaintiffs felt Southwick had tried to “retroactively justify some of the actions and conduct at the walkout.”

The district directed all further inquiries on the case to Duane Martin of EdCounsel, LLC, the law firm where former Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson began working a few months ago.