Student activist rights and repercussions spelled out
Area public school officials are getting ahead of the possibility of more student walkouts over gun violence and other issues, sending out a statement regarding student rights when it comes to activism, along with a reminder about the potential consequences.
About 100 Glenwood Springs High School students staged a walkout during their lunch break on Feb. 21, the week after 17 students and faculty members were gunned down in the latest in a string of mass shootings, this one in Parkland, Florida.
Since then, there has been some mention in social media posts and school hallways, and among some parents locally, about students joining other planned nationwide efforts. Among them is the “march for their lives” on March 24, in solidarity with students at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, though that protest takes place on a Saturday.
Another date being mentioned, especially in Colorado, is April 20, which marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings outside Denver. And, a rumored walkout at Rifle High School this week sparked some recent commentary on the Rifle Connected Facebook page.
The prospect of more-expansive student protests during school hours prompted a letter to students and parents last week from the Roaring Fork School District, which includes schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
“The Roaring Fork Schools are supportive of staff and student activism. We want our school community members to be engaged citizens who participate in public discourse,” the statement read.
“At the same time, a central tenet of civil disobedience is accepting the consequences of one’s actions,” it continued, explaining that student absences for the purpose of participating in political rallies, protests, walkouts, and the like, “will be considered unexcused.”
The letter also points out the students in grades 8 and lower need parental permission to leave school to participate in such an event. And, “Staff who participate will be asked to take personal time.”
While supportive of students wanting to engage in civic action, the district also states that the same consequences for being absent apply, regardless of the cause.
“As a school district, we do not arbitrate which political causes are appropriate,” the letter states, offering a link to an American Civil Liberties Union article regarding student rights when it comes to protesting. It, too, points out that students’ First Amendment rights cannot be trampled on, but that students should be prepared to be held accountable if they miss school.
“We also ask that teachers show understanding in scheduling tests and assignments so as not to unduly penalize students for exercising their rights as citizens,” the Roaring Fork Schools letter concludes.
Glenwood Springs High School Principal Paul Freeman also offered some thoughts on student activism following the Feb. 21 walkout.
“Everybody should be full participants in society,” he said. “That means its political processes, and activism is a very healthy part of that.”
Freeman offered the caveat, however, that public protests could be just as powerful before or after school, or during the lunch break.
“The school day is short, while the regular day is long,” he said. “There’s absolutely no need to withdraw from class, that’s not helping anybody … the goal of maintaining one’s education, and being active in society, are entirely compatible.”
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