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All three seats up for grabs at Shawnee Mission School Board

Discontent with the Shawnee Mission School Board has attracted a number of candidates for this fall’s elections.

As of the filing deadline Thursday, all three seats up for grabs this year will be contested with two races requiring primary elections on Aug. 1.

Cindy Neighbor, who is running for her fourth term on the board in an at-large seat, faces four challengers.

Mandi Serrone Hunter, Heather Ousley, Robert Roberge and Fabian Shepard will compete with Neighbors with the top two vote-getters advancing to the Nov. 7 general election.

Incumbent Craig Denny, who represents the Shawnee Mission West area and has been on the board since 1997, will face Lee Baird, Laura Guy and Christopher White in the primary.

James Lockard and Mary Sinclair will run to represent the Shawnee Mission East area after longtime incumbent Donna Bysfield decided against running for a seventh four-year term. It would have been the first opposition Bysfield had faced for reelection since joining the board in 1993.

The school board has come under increasing scrutiny in the past year from parents, teachers and other community members criticizing how the board conducts its meetings, how it communicates with the public and for several of its policies.

Most recently, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas blasted the board in a letter, calling new guidelines that restrict people making public comments at board meetings from mentioning specific district employees or students “unconstitutional.”

The letter came following an encounter at the board’s May 22 meeting when Board President Sara Goodburn repeatedly stopped parent Jeff Passan from asking the board about a specific conflict of interest issue regarding board member Deb Zila, saying it was against the new policy for public speakers to use the names of individual students or district employees.

Goodburn later acknowledged that it was a mistake to interrupt Passan as Zila is not a district employee.

Last month, Superintendent Jim Hinson announced he will retire June 30. Neither Hinson nor the board has discussed the move in detail, but it did come following a number of controversial policies and events, including the district reportedly mishandling a case where a Briarwood Elementary student was removed from school while his mother was detained by immigration agents this past March.

The incident led to a resolution compelling district officials to minimize traumatic effects on students, attempt to reach the student’s emergency contacts and request proper documentation before delivering a child to police custody.

David Twiddy: