We are getting the distinct impression that the Shawnee Mission school board is either unwilling to learn, or indifferent to the U.S. Constitution.
(And in either case, kids, look away.)
Six months ago, we asked the board to please rethink their new gag-order guidelines mandating that those making public comments at board meetings refrain from mentioning any particular employee or student by name.
Were speakers then supposed to act out their concerns, as in a game of charades? Or use Pig Latin, maybe? Or sing? Opera is nice.
Those rules were announced last April, right after some parents asked a series of pointed questions of their elected representatives at a school board meeting.
Their questions — about transparency, a potential conflict of interest on the board and how sexual assault reports are handled — seem more important than ever right now.
The board did rethink the policy, but seems to have gone even further. Now, it’s approved a new one that’s if anything, even worse.
Complaints against individual employees, students and board members are off-limits in the supposedly open forum portion of the board meetings.
They can still give you kudos, though, right?
Public employees — you know, who are paid by and report to taxpayers — as well as elected representatives are supposed to be accountable to them.
Yet the new procedures say all comments “are expected to be presented in a constructive and positive manner.”
We can and should expect civility, but that’s different from requiring that parents only give you the good news in an open forum.
Far more logical to us is the Kansas City Public Schools ban on personal attacks, inappropriate gestures and cursing. See the difference?
“I don’t know if (complaining) is inappropriate,’’ Shawnee Mission School Board president Craig Denny told The Star.
He should know, though, since he helped write the policy that’s worded that way.
“It’s just not quite the best way to go about it,’’ Denny said. “If you have a complaint about a teacher, I think it would be best to take it up with them. I just think it’s rude.”
That depends on the problem, of course. If everything could be worked out between parents, teachers and administrators, why even have a board?
And, what if a parent has a complaint about a board action?
Others who helped write the policy said they were only trying to protect the privacy of students and employees.
But how can that be, when board members, too, are mentioned as untouchable?
Denny cited a parent’s criticism of one member’s possible conflict of interest last spring, and said that in that case, the parent did come off to him as lodging “less of a complaint than an attack.”
He’s referring to a question about board member Debra Zila’s potential conflict of interest. Her daughter works for a school district vendor that was unanimously awarded a new contract by the board in January.
Why, the parent wanted to know, hadn’t Zila recused herself or been asked to recuse herself from that vote?
That is a perfectly valid question for Zila and the rest of the board. We’re glad that the new policy spells out that such conflicts, too, are explicitly off-limits.
But that parent deserved an answer, and maybe even a “thank you” for pointing out the problem, rather than a kibosh on any more such queries.
And as we said in June, if board members don’t want to have to hear anything unfavorable from the public, voters may decide to retire them from that and all their other duties.