Students have the right to be activists

student-right-to-protest-cartoon
Some schools try to limit students’ First Amendment rights, but with bouts of student activism throughout the years, there have been cases that limit schools’ ability to infringe upon those rights. The gun law protest that stem from the Florida shooting are a recent example. Cartoon by Hannah Onder

After the mass school shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., thousands of high school and college students grouped together under the hashtag #NeverAgain to plan several walkouts during school hours to protest gun laws.

In response to this, some secondary schools have begun threating disciplinary actions to protesting students. Curtis Rhodes, superintendent of the Needville Independent School District in Texas warned that student participants would get three days of suspension, according to Reuters.

Should students have the right to protest during school hours?

Yes. Students have the right to peacefully protest in schools because their First Amendment rights don’t leave as they enter school buildings. According to the American Civil Rights Union’s website, students have the right to protest by speaking out, handing out flyers, and wearing expressive clothing as long as they are not disrupting the educational environment or violating regular school policy.

What counts as disruptive to the school environment can vary from school to school. However, what doesn’t count as disruptive is students expressing opposing viewpoints or controversial issues in their protests, according to the ACLU.

How do the student walkouts fit into the First Amendment?

According to the ACLU, students do have the right to participate in the walkouts during school hours. However, this does not excuse them from disciplinary actions. This is because most states have the law that requires students to go to class, so schools can punish students for missing class.

The key thing for students that miss class protesting to know is the absence policy for their school. According to the ACLU, this is because the school does have the ability to punish students for missing class, but it doesn’t have the right to punish students beyond what is the rule for regularly missing that amount of class time. Essentially, the school cannot over punish students for missing class due to protesting.

Will universities discriminate against high-school students with disciplinary actions on their record for protesting?

It depends. According to Reuters, at least 40 universities, including prestigious Ivy League schools like Yale, have issued statements supporting prospective students in heeding the call to advocate for change in gun control laws and other endeavors.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling promotes transparency between college applicants and universities. One issue the organization is doing this on is the position of students participating in activism.

The NACAC created a forum for colleges to post their positions. More than 200 universities across the country responded that they promote student activism, and will not penalize students with disciplinary actions for participating in peaceful protests. Texas Wesleyan has not responded with a position.

Therefore, students should not fear protesting to protect their values. With many universities supporting student activists, high school students shouldn’t fear disciplinary actions blemishing their record, and university students should be fine as long as they keep their protests peaceful.

Can students avoid disciplinary action altogether for protesting?

The best way for students to avoid disciplinary action is to keep their protest off-campus and outside of school. According to the ACLU, students that organize, protest, and advocate off-campus and outside of school hours are most the most protected since schools can’t punish students for off-campus and online action that doesn’t relate to the school.

Protesting is an important way for students to advocate for the protection of their values, so they shouldn’t be afraid to peacefully protest during school hours for causes they believe in. If it’s something students truly value, the threat of disciplinary actions shouldn’t prevent them from fighting for what they believe is right. As we’ve seen with Florida’s student activism, gun laws are slowly changing due to students acting on what they believe is right.

The March For Our Lives movement will have a rally in Dallas on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. at the Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla St. For more information, go to txdemocrats.org.


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