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Shawnee Mission School District Investigates Alleged Censorship Of Student Walkouts

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
At a board meeting Monday night, Shawnee Mission School District Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick saidan investigation is underway of alleged student censorship during April 20 walkouts.

After complaints arose that administrators allegedly censored students during recent nationwide walkouts, the Shawnee Mission School District announced it will take measures to train district officials on First Amendment rights.

Last week,the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the districtif it didn't address allegations that administrators restricted students' participation in the April 20 walkouts protesting gun violence.

At a district board meeting Monday night, Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick said he's been conducting an investigation into the reported incidents since they began to surface.

"We've received a lot of responses [about the walkouts], as far right and far left as you can imagine," Southwick said.

His top concern before, during and after the walkouts, he said, was student safety, and with no injuries, he felt that was accomplished. 

But Southwick said he's taking concerns of wrongdoing seriously and is in the process of investigating. He told the board that this was his first walkout.

"We're not in the walkout business," he said.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Shawnee Mission North junior Grace Altenhofen was concerned after she says she saw an associate principal take a camera from a student's hands at their walkout.

"I can respect that -- you can't prepare for every scenario," said 16-year-old Grace Altenhofen.

The Shawnee Mission North junior said she saw an associate principal at her school take a camera out of student's hands during their walkout.

"But I think at the very least you should know the laws and know the rights of students because you have to be prepared for the unexpected when you're an administrator," Altenhofen said.

Southwick wouldn't comment yet on whether he believes students rights to free speech were violated, but Shawnee Mission School Board member Heather Ousley said, if they were, or if any student felt they were, she's sorry.

"I'm so proud of all of the kids who have stood up for themselves, spoken up and said what they needed to say no matter what the issue was," Ousley said.

And, she said, the district has come a long way.

"About a year and a half ago, this district was facing issues with regard to whether or not people could wear safety pins," Ousley said. "I think there's been a tremendous amount of growth . . . and I'm looking forward to getting this right in the future."

Southwick has taken measures to bring training on First Amendment and other rights at an end-of-summer administrator retreat. Meanwhile, he will continue his investigation and to follow up with students individually, but with graduation approaching next week, he said, it's not his top priority.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and tweet her @_tudhope

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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