Can students be legally disciplined by their school for a walkout?

Students at thousands of schools across the country walked out of class Wednesday morning to protest gun violence. The 17-minute walkout is a tribute to the 17 victims who were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month.

According to the Say #Enough website, which compiles the stories of shooting victims and advocates for change, there will be more than 3,000 walkouts held in communities coast to coast and in Puerto Rico. Students participating in the movement left or were leaving their classes at 10 a.m. in their respective time zone.

The walkouts were met with mixed results by school administrators across the country, as some wholeheartedly helped the kids prepare while yet others threatened suspension for walking out of class.

Students in Sayreville, New Jersey will face two days of suspension if they participate in a 17-minute protest, commemorating the 17 students and faculty killed in Parkland, according to district officials. NBC10 Philadelphia

In Seattle, The Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday backing the student’s effort. Seattle Council Member Lorena Gonzalez sponsored the measure, noting how hundreds of Seattle high school students are expected to take part. KING 5 News

Meamwhile, in Arlington, a notice was sent out last week from Dr. Chrys Sweeting
Superintendent that reads:

“Dear Families,

Following the tragic shooting in a Florida high school on Feb. 14, students around the country are planning walkouts to protest school violence. Anticipating that this movement may come to Arlington Public Schools, we want you to know how we will respond if students participate in a walkout.

Our students may want to exercise their First Amendment rights to express their views on this important topic and participate in a walkout. While we understand students may feel passionate about this, the district has attendance policies and procedures in place to ensure student safety and minimal disruptions to the learning environment.

There is no district- or school-sponsored walkout planned. Schools and classes will continue on their normal schedule. If you want to excuse your child from class to allow them to participate in a community walkout, please contact your school’s office and follow normal pre-arranged absence procedures. Absences that are not excused by a parent will be treated as unexcused.

As always, the safety of our students is our top priority.”

Can students be disciplined or otherwise sanctioned by their school for a walkout?

The ACLU puts it this way:

You can be punished for participating — not over what you are protesting, but for being absent from class. “The exact punishment you could face will vary by your state, school district, and school,” the ACLU explains. “Find out more by reading the policies of your school and school district. If you’re planning to miss a class or two, look at the policy for unexcused absences.” If planned ahead with parents, students may be able to be signed out of a class by a parent.


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