Several superintendents and administrators recently expressed disapproval about the upcoming National Walkout on Wednesday, March 14, including a superintendent of a Texas school district.
Needville Independent School District Superintendent (IDS) Curtis Rhodes, in a now-deleted Facebook post, said any type of protest or demonstration during school hours will result in a three-day school suspension and all the associated consequences.
There will be discipline “no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved.”
Quite frankly, I think this threat, veiled as a concern for the learning environment, is absolutely ridiculous and shows a lack of awareness of what students can legally do during school hours.
If Rhodes hasn’t already, he and everyone else who says that students should shut up, sit down and learn because that’s all they can do need to read or re-read Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), a case I learned about in my high school United States history class.
At the center of this case were a brother and sister, John and Mary Beth Tinker. They were two of five public school students who had been suspended for wearing black armbands to school to silently protest the Vietnam War.
Mary Beth Tinker’s math teacher, as well as the principal, thought these armbands were a huge distraction to learning, even though her other teachers and fellow students didn’t seem to care.
The Supreme Court ruled in the siblings’ favor, saying students don’t lose their rights once they walk in the school building.
Other cases such as Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986) and Frederick v. Morse (2007), infamously known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, defined what constitutes distractions to learning.
Walking out for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and to raise awareness for lack of a strict gun policy is not one of these distractions.
The threat of suspension that the Needville ISD superintendent mentioned is, in fact, unconstitutional.
I understand wanting to maintain a sense of order, especially after a school mass shooting.
However, this protest isn’t even an entire school day. It’s just 17 minutes. That’s not a class period. It’s not even an entire lunch period.
Additionally, aren’t people always complaining that schools aren’t teaching what’s important? With this protest, students are learning, through actual experience, what it’s like to be civically engaged and to act when they want something changed. This is something to be encouraged, not dismissed as child’s play and distractions from learning.
Plus, the notion of students not being allowed to protest during school hours makes little sense. These mass shootings at these schools didn’t occur before or after class. They happened during school hours.
Why should protests against the political forces perpetuating these mass shootings be any different?
We should be letting students exercise their constitutional rights by experience and not by tests, even if it’s beyond the realm of our comfortabilities.
After all, we can only teach them theory just for the sake of passing tests for so long.
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