Kansas American Civil Liberties Union fights for local students’ speech rights

The+Capitol+Building+in+Topeka%2C+KS+is+the+site+of+many+lobbying+efforts+on+the+part+of+the+ACLU+of+Kansas%2C+an+organization+which+carries+out+numerous+efforts+to+uphold+constitutional+rights+in+Kansan+communities.
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Kansas American Civil Liberties Union fights for local students’ speech rights

The Capitol Building in Topeka, KS is the site of many lobbying efforts on the part of the ACLU of Kansas, an organization which carries out numerous efforts to uphold constitutional rights in Kansan communities.

The Capitol Building in Topeka, KS is the site of many lobbying efforts on the part of the ACLU of Kansas, an organization which carries out numerous efforts to uphold constitutional rights in Kansan communities.

ACLU of Kansas

The Capitol Building in Topeka, KS is the site of many lobbying efforts on the part of the ACLU of Kansas, an organization which carries out numerous efforts to uphold constitutional rights in Kansan communities.

ACLU of Kansas

ACLU of Kansas

The Capitol Building in Topeka, KS is the site of many lobbying efforts on the part of the ACLU of Kansas, an organization which carries out numerous efforts to uphold constitutional rights in Kansan communities.

Sam Hubert, Editor-in-Chief

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In a victory for Kansas student journalism rights, the Kansas American Civil Liberties Union was able to secure a settlement with the Shawnee Mission School District made public on April 18 over actions taken by a school administrator and the district to limit students’ speech rights during the school walkouts regarding gun violence last spring.

“The general provisions of the agreement are training for administrators in the Shawnee Mission School District, both at the middle school and high school levels, ensuring they understand first amendment protections for not only student speakers but student journalists,” said Lauren Bonds, the legal director and interim executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.

Almost a year prior to the settlement on April 20, 2018, during their school walkout protesting gun violence, an administrator at Shawnee Mission North High School took a camera from a student photojournalist covering the event. This was in addition to the fact that students at the walkout at North were restricted from discussing gun reform and politically controversial stances, and students at multiple middle schools in the district were not allowed to even mention school shootings, despite the fact that the walkout was planned to coincide with the anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

As a result, the ACLU of Kansas sued the district, citing the infringement of the students’ first amendment speech rights. Bonds explained that the settlement required SMSD to adopt district policies that “prohibit them from censoring journalists going forward and also censoring students who are speaking about controversial political topics.”

Conversely, students at De Soto High School who organized the walkout last year felt that the administration was very cooperative and that their rights were not infringed.

“I was never told that we couldn’t talk about hard subjects,” said junior Aspen Grieshaber, who organized and spoke at the walkout at DHS.

This is partially because of the protections afforded to student journalists and speakers in USD 232 policy, which expressly states that “students who have facts and opinions should be allowed to express them in print as well as through oral communications.” The Kansas Student Publications Act of 1992 allows similar freedoms regarding censorship specifically for student publications in the state of Kansas.

When you’re young it’s hard to stand up for your rights,”

— ACLU Legal Director Lauren Bonds

USD 232 Assistant Superintendent Alvie Cater explained how the district policy is applied in practice, and how it is possible to protect both the rights of the students and the order of schools.

“Students don’t shed their first amendment rights when they walk into the doors of a school,” Cater said. “What the school district can do is help determine a time and location when a student wants to express an opinion because we have to protect the school day.”

Bonds believes this perspective towards valuing students’ rights is especially important. While the ACLU of Kansas is an organization which litigates, lobbies and seeks to inform all Kansans of their constitutional rights, many of the inquiries and cases they receive relate to the rights of students.

“I think that’s just because students are a very vulnerable population for their civil rights and civil liberties to be violated … when you’re young it’s hard to stand up for your rights, particularly if you are in a situation where your teacher is this source of authority and you’re told not to question them,” Bonds added.

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