How different districts deal with student protests during hours of instruction

One of the conflicts in 2018 thus far is the debate over gun laws. Since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, students across the nation began to take action to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again. Students nationwide staged peaceful walkouts to show their support for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Because these walkouts are taking place during the school day, some of the consequences that students face rest on how each individual school district decides to handle these protests. School district superintendents should work with students to allow them to express their opinions and not limit their first amendment rights, the freedom of speech and expression.

However, some school district leaders, such as the superintendent of the Needville, Texas school district, Curtis Rhodes, decided to not take a collaborative approach with their students.

“Please be advised that the Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness!!” Rhodes wrote in a letter to students and parents according to The Washington Post. “Should students choose to do so, they will be suspended from school for 3 days and face all the consequences that come along with an out of school suspension. Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved.”

In contradiction, not all schools are against students wanting to peacefully protest. In the MPS district, students from both MHS and DHS are participating in supporting those affected by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. MPS Superintendent Michael Sharrow worked to collaborate with students by creating a safe plan allowing students to express their support.

“Our high school principals will work with our student leaders to have the gymnasium be used to honor Stoneman Douglas High School with a letter writing promotion that has been requested by Stoneman Douglas High School administrators,” Sharrow wrote in his weekly communique on Mar. 5. “This will be student-led, but supervised by staff for safety. Students may choose to participate or remain in their classrooms. This event will be closed to any outside visitors (community members, parents, press) as MPS practice is our campuses are closed during the instructional day.”

Sharrow referred back to the historic case of Tinker v Des Moines when deciding on how the students should be allowed students to express their freedom of expression.

“This landmark Supreme Court case [of Tinker v Des Moines] although nearly 50 years old is the standard bearer that schools operate by,” Sharrow said in an email interview. “Basically it says students’ rights to free speech does not stop at the schoolhouse door. The other main principle used to guide schools on these issues is the event or speech a major disruption to the learning environment.”

Though the plan to stage a gathering in the gymnasiums has been put in place, students still plan to walk out and congregate outside of the schools. According to the Midland Student Walkout Twitter, students from both MHS and DHS plan to walk out of their third-hour classrooms after announcements and meet outside. For students planning to participate in walking outside, there are consequences based on the district’s current policy.

“You may receive an unexcused absence for third hour on Wednesday, so we suggest asking your parents to excuse you ahead of time if this is of concern,” Midland Student Walkout tweeted.

As of right now, the MPS district set the repercussion of being marked absent if a student chooses to leave the building.

“Although some students have decided to not take us up on our offer for an in-house event, the district will remain relatively neutral or silent on this event because of the legal opinions we gathered,” Sharrow said in an email interview. “Students who leave the building will be absent from instruction per our attendance policy. I will not speculate what may or not occur [Mar. 14]. So we must wait and see and hope and pray all will be safe and no disruption to the learning environment occurs.”

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