March 11, 2018
This letter provides information regarding school “walk-outs” organized by students.
Many of you may already know that in the aftermath of the Parkland Florida shootings, students have started to raise their voice and others have joined in. At present, certain organizations from around the country are encouraging students to take part in multiple scheduled school “walk-outs.” The walk-outs are being presented as “student led protests” to bring more awareness to current events and societal issues.
We anticipate that some of our students will be interested in participating in these events, and others will not. Thus, we need to remain mindful of the needs of everyone who comes to school ready to learn. We do not plan to interrupt our normal instruction for these protests. Students who wish to protest may do so provided their individual actions do not materially interfere with the function and operation of their school. Students who do not wish to protest will be able to focus on their individual academic pursuits.
Student safety and instruction remain our ultimate concerns.
Dr. Brad Snyder
Q1: Are students legally allowed to protest during the school day?
A1: Yes, as long as their actions and their words do not materially or substantially interfere with the function and operation of their school. The US Supreme Court has ruled in Tinker vs. Des Moines, that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate. Thus, students do have a constitutional right to protest / free speech. However, at the same time, the same ruling also provides that students do not have a constitutional right to materially and substantially interfere with the function and operation of their school or school activities. Students have both rights and limits.
Q2: Does the School Corporation support these student protests?
A2. The School Corporation is neutral to all student led political protests. As a government institution, we do not endorse student led protests nor do we discourage student freedom of speech.
Q3: Will teachers help the students organize the protest?
A3: No. All forms of student protest must be student led.
Q4: Can teachers participate in the protest?
A4: No. An individual teacher’s action could violate state law and local policy. Unlike students, the court has ruled that teachers and school employees are not protected by the Free Speech clause while they are on duty and working for the public school. While in the line of duty, employees have a requirement of neutrality.
Q5: Can parents protest with their student?
A5: No. A parent may sign their child out of the building at any time.
Q6: What will a protest day look like?
A6: We will provide a safe internal environment for students who desire to protest while maintaining a routine for those who wish to focus on academics. We will provide our expected and routine orderly environment for all students and staff.
Q7: Will my student be safe if they walk-out?
A7: Students will be in the safest position if they remain inside of their school building. We have notified local law enforcement regarding the potential of these walk-out situations in the event some students decide to venture outside on their own.
Q8: Will students be disciplined if they participant in the walk-out?
A8: If an event occurs, it will be a normal school day, and as such, routine attendance practices and policy remain in force. All polices within the student handbook will be our guide to assess acceptable behavior.
Q9: Why is the school “protest neutral” and not willing to help the kids more?
A9: Policy directs school administration to avoid all situations in which personal interests, activities, and associations that conflict with the interests of the Corporation. The Corporation will not support outside non-school activities which threaten the effectiveness or the integrity of its staff or the regular school day. Our goal is to be protest neutral and remain safety vigilant. Student safety is a full time and serious matter. Finally, we do not know how many groups may want to conduct similar civil protests in the future and for what political or societal cause.
Q10: As a parent, what can I do?
A10: Talk with your developing teen. Help them think through and discuss the relevant issues and emotions, emphasize personal decision making, and clarify appropriate behavior.