Kan. district's proposal would prohibit yearbook, newspaper dedications

KANSAS — An Eastern Kansas school board is considering a policy that wouldeliminate on-campus memorials for deceased students and prevent studentnewspapers and yearbooks from dedicating editions or pages to them.

David Howard, superintendent of the Basehor-Linwood SchoolDistrict, outlined the plan at the Board of Education’s Aug. 8 meeting, and theboard discussed the measure again Monday.

“It’s basically to have a policy, some guidelines we canfollow, in case of a student tragedy,” Howard said in a phone interview.

Pending board approval, the proposal seeks to eliminate“inappropriate memorials,” including plaques, photos and other memorabilia;permanent items such as benches and picnic tables; trees, shrubs or otherperennials on school grounds; and memorial pages in student yearbooks,newspapers and other publications.

The provision on student publications would not barobituaries or news coverage of deaths, Howard said.

Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein saidthe policy is a constitutional violation nonetheless.

“It’s a facially unconstitutional content-based regulation.It’ll last as long as it takes someone to take them to court over it,”Goldstein said. “Not only can you not order people not to remember people inthe yearbook, but there would have to be something wrong with you to want to.”

Kansas is one of seven states with laws that provideheightened free speech protection for student publications.

The district’s action, Howard said, was spurred by recentdeaths in the area, including that of 16-year-old Kylee Wilson, a student atnearby Tonganoxie High School, who was killed in a vehicle rollover in July.

“I know that they went through some issues about how tohandle things at school,” Howard said.

School Board President Dayna Miller said, however, thepolicy was more about the district being proactive than a response to anyspecific incident.

All members of the school community grieve and cope with“tragic situations” differently, Miller said.

“It’s simply about being respectful to the kids who arestill here,” she said.

After Wilson’s death, students held a vigil on theTonganoxie High School campus. Howard said the policy he and Basehor-Linwooddistrict officials drafted would not stop impromptu gatherings.

“If a bunch of kids gather in the parking lot aftersomething happens, that’s fine,” he said. “We just don’t encourage it.”

Miller, too, said spur-of-the-moment memorials could not andwould not be prevented.

“I would say that’s human nature and it happens,” Millersaid. “You can’t dictate how they spontaneously respond to those things.”

The policy mimics those of other schools in the state,Howard said.

Instead of permanent memorials on school grounds, the policywould provide for a flower bouquet, purchased by the district and on display atgraduation ceremonies, acknowledging “all deceased classmates who were a partof this graduating class.”

The district sits just west of Kansas City; its lone highschool has a yearbook and newspaper. Adviser Kristen Knoth did not returnrequests for comment.

“There really was not a lot of discussion from the board andno comments from the community,” Miller said after the September meeting.

The school board is expected to vote on the subject when itgathers again Oct. 10, Howard said.