In the wake of 17 deaths in the shooting at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School on Feb. 14, students across the country are organizing public statements, letters to the editor and planned walkouts to protest what students perceive as a lack of effective response by leaders.
One planned walkout will occur next Wednesday, March 14, when some students will leave class for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 lives lost in Florida. Another national walkout is being planned for April 20, which is the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.
Board members and administrators are engaging in discussions to answer the question: How should the district prepare and react if students want to join in planned protests? This isn’t an easy question, and each district’s response depends on a number of factors, including:
- The type of planned activity.
- The number of students likely to participate.
- Students’ ages.
- The willingness of students to consider alternate forms of expression.
- Whether parents, teachers, school employees, law enforcement, community members and others are involved in event planning or participation.
One key consideration is balancing students’ Constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and express themselves with the school’s authority to limit the time, place and manner of student speech and meet its duty to maintain safe and orderly schools. While districts have the legal authority to discipline students for missing classes, discipline cannot be harsher because students are leaving classes to protest.
Planning and being proactive is very important if students in any district are discussing a walkout. Districts aren’t alone as they grapple with these questions. The National School Boards Association has prepared a toolkit for school boards and district leaders to plan ahead and engage students, parents and community leaders in preparation for student protest activities in their schools and communities. The toolkit includes a range of possible scenarios with accompanying operational questions to consider.
OSBA will continue to monitor this topic and provide updates and resources as they become available.