Across Kansas and across the country, the story that will soon play out in the Shawnee Mission School District is being closely followed. Local TV, radio and newspaper reporters are expected to attend the Shawnee Mission school board’s Jan. 22 meeting, joining what is expected to be a standing-room only crowd.
A major policy change regarding open forums has become a constitutional issue. And what happens in Shawnee Mission could reverberate across Kansas and perhaps the nation.
The Shawnee Mission district, the third largest in Kansas with 27,000 students, is ground zero in the statewide controversy pertaining to restrictions on open forums. The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to take the school board to court if current policies are not modified to comply with what the ACLU interprets as constitutional free speech.
Three of seven school board members are newly elected, replacing ousted or suddenly retiring incumbents. A fourth member, Brad Stratton, who serves as the new school board president, has been an outspoken critic of the way the board has conducted its business. Combined, those four form a majority. And many expect them to vote to rewrite the current open forum policies, some of which were enacted as recently as November.
What the revised policies say may determine whether there will be litigation between the ACLU and the school district.