SHAWNEE MISSION, Kan. (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against a Kansas school district, claiming that it violated students’ free speech rights.
The civil rights organization, representing three students, claims that the Shawnee Mission School district censored students during national walkouts protesting gun violence on April 20.
“When students resisted the District’s efforts at censorship, District officials interrupted students, ordered them to stop speaking, threatened students with discipline and, in some cases, confiscated the tools that students were using to document the protests,” the complaint states.
Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick, also named as a defendant, had previously apologized for “anything that resulted in student censorship.”
Southwick launched an investigation, but Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said the investigation was merely set up to “retroactively justify conduct at the walkout.”
The complaint alleges that one plaintiff, a student journalist, had her camera taken by a school official while she was taking photos of the protest for her high school’s yearbook and newspaper.
“Students should be learning about the unlawfulness of prior restraint in journalism class, not having it demonstrated by school administrators,” Bonds said.
According to the complaint, the school district allowed students to protest, but did not mention any specific terms that could be used. It was only at the protests that school officials informed students they couldn’t mention guns or gun violence.
The school district released a statement on the lawsuit today, saying that it “cannot comment on pending legal matters,” adding that it has been in talks with the ACLU and the three students.
“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,” the statement said.