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Shawnee Mission School Leaders Apologize For Violating Students' Freedom Of Speech

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Shawnee Mission students write postcards to lawmakers the weekend after the Parkland school shooting. The ACLU filed suit against the district over how it handled the National School Walkout in April 2018.

Student plaintiffs from a National School Walkout lawsuit have received their letters of apology from the Shawnee Mission School District.

The letters were part of the settlement the students reached with the district earlier this year, said Lauren Bonds, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

“I think they’ve been pleased for the most part with that portion of the settlement agreement,” Bonds says. “That being said, there are still a couple of items the Shawnee Mission School District needs to complete.”

Specifically, the school board still needs to adopt a policy that would prevent students’ free speech rights from being squelched in the future, as well as train all the administrators.

“As educators, it is our responsibility to help students find their voice, and our actions last spring, as detailed in the settlement agreement, fell short of that expectation,” the letter read in part.

The letter was signed by Superintendent Michael Fulton, though he was not in charge when students were punished for walking out of school on April 18, 2018. The National School Walkout was a response to the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

In Shawnee Mission, administrators ended the walkout when students started talking about gun violence.

“There's a pretty long and entrenched culture of suppression of speech in the Shawnee Mission School District, and change isn’t going to happen overnight, unfortunately,” Bonds says. “But based on what we've heard from our clients, things are headed in a positive direction in terms of culture changes.”

David Smith, spokesman for the district, says that Shawnee Mission is working to comply with all the terms of the settlement and was in the process of determining what kind of training should be done.

“We want to make sure we do it right and do it well,” Smith says. “We’re going to do exactly what we said we’d do.”

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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