Kan. school district abandons proposal to ban yearbook, newspaper dedications

KANSAS — In thewake of uproar from free speech advocates last month, an Eastern Kansas schooldistrict has stricken the parts of a policy proposal that would have prohibitedyearbook and newspaper dedications to deceased students.

Officials at the Basehor-Linwood School Board meeting Mondayapproved a version of a policy regarding on-campus memorials that would not setrestrictions on student publications or limit memorial services on schoolgrounds outside of school hours.

Superintendent David Howard originally proposed therestrictions to the school board in August. In that incarnation, the policywould have prohibited memorial pages in student yearbooks, newspaper and otherpublications.

Last month, the Student Press Law Center and representativesof the Kansas Scholastic Press Association warned the school district that thepolicy, as then written, violated students’ constitutional rights. Furthermore,it breached Kansas state law.

Kansas is one of seven states with laws on the books thatprovide heightened free speech protection for student publications.

Dubbed anti-Hazelwood legislation,the Kansas Student Publications Act limits the effects of the 1988 SupremeCourt decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier,which granted school officials abroader swath of authority when regulating student expression.

After discussions with the board’s attorney, members alteredthe policy to remove the contentious restrictions and reworded the language tomake it more concise, said school board President Dayna Miller. 

Mark Johnson, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the KansasScholastic Press Association at last month’s school board meeting, said theapproved version of the policy addresses his concerns.

“This policy is OK,” said Johnson, also a lecturer at theUniversity of Kansas. “The only activity they are positively prohibiting is amemorial service during school hours.”

The district’s intent never was to infringe upon students’rights but to implement a plan to deal with unexpected situations before theyarose, Miller said.

“Our goal was not to shut kids down or not have themgrieve,” she said. “(This version) takes care of the liability kinds of thingswe were worried about.”

The school board believes it has struck a balance thatassuages concerns while maintaining the purpose of the policy, Miller said.

“Memorials should reflect the needs of the school community while being respectful of the deceased individual’s family and friends,” the policy reads. “The purpose of this policy is to have many decisions made, in a dispassionateenvironment, prior to the crisis event.”

Still outlawed are permanent campus memorials, such asbenches and trees, as well as memorial services during the school day.

The policy does not prohibit monetary donations to thedistrict in remembrance of students, staff or alumni; that money will beadministered to the Educational Foundation. Furthermore, the district willpurchase and display a flower bouquet at graduation ceremonies “in memory ofall deceased classmates who were part of this graduating class.”

After approving the revisions, Miller said she is happy withthe final product.

“Our goal was never to infringe on anybody’s rights,” Millersaid.