If you're planning to take part in the national school walkout, read this

Updated 10:53 AM ET, Wed March 14, 2018

(CNN)Students across the country are expected to walk out of their classrooms Wednesday morning to protest gun violence. The National School Walkout is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in every time zone and last for 17 minutes -- a minute for each life lost in the Parkland school shooting.

If you're a student who's thinking of taking part (or thet parent of one), you probably have lots of questions: Can the school retaliate? Will it hurt your chances of college? Can you just stay home for the day?
For help with answers, we turned to a couple of experts:
Ben Wizner picture
Ben Wizner
Director of ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
Christine V. Hamiel picture
Christine V. Hamiel
Lawyer advising school districts in Wisconsin on legal issues
Ben Wizner is the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law. He's litigated numerous cases involving the intersection of civil liberties and national security. He's also the principal legal advisor to Edward Snowden.
Christine V. Hamiel is an attorney at the von Briesen & Roper law firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She chairs the firm's school law section and advises school districts on legal matters involving student issues, among other things.

Jump to a question

Can my school punish me for taking part? Can I be arrested? Can a teacher force me to write a letter or essay as a condition for participating? Can a teacher schedule a test during the walkout? Will participating hurt my chance of getting into college? Can my parents sign me out of class for the walkout? Do I have to stay on my campus when I walk out? If I go to a private school, what are my rights? I'm not a US citizen. Do I still have the First Amendment right to protest? What happens if I don't want to walk out? Can a teacher join us in the walkout?

1. Can my school punish me for taking part?

pencil bullet illustration
If you're just participating: Your school can (since students are required to be in school) but many won't as long as the students aren't being disruptive. Remember, students have a First Amendment right to protest, just like anybody else. The landmark Tinker v. Des Moines case pretty much settled that legal question. In it, the Supreme Court ruled students don't "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Some schools could hit students who walk out with an unexcused absence. That could be a bigger problem if a student already has a lot of those and the extra one results in him or her being considered truant.
If the walkout turns disruptive: In that case, schools can stop students from participating. They can also take some punitive measures. But they can't punish students just because the district doesn't like the brand of politics that powers the protests.

2. Can I be arrested?

Generally, students don't have to worry about being arrested -- unless, of course, they start breaking laws, like blocking a street while protesting.

3. Can a teacher force me to write a letter or essay as a condition for participating?

Some districts are telling students they have to write a letter or essay on the topic of, say, gun reform or civil disobedience in order to participate. That's OK. Schools can assign work to students, Wizner said -- and students don't have a constitutional right to not do work. "It seems to be a sensible way for the school to teach students" lessons on civics and citizenship, he said.

4. Can a teacher schedule a test during the walkout?

books illustration
Yes. If the test was already scheduled and is part of the curriculum, that's perfectly fine. But if the test's sole purpose is to keep students from walking out, that's more of problem. In that case, students don't have a lot of recourse, since schools generally have the discretion to schedule tests when they want to. Wizner called such practices "a vindictive exercise" that wastes an opportunity for teachers to teach students "how to be an adult in this world."
Instead, schools should offer students who miss a walkout-related test a chance to take it at another time, Hamiel said, or offer them an alternative assignment.

5. Will participating hurt my chance of getting into college?

Several colleges -- from Yale to Tulane to UCLA -- have already come out and told prospective students that unexcused absences or other consequences resulting from the walkout won't affect their admission into the schools. But there's no guarantee other schools won't take a different tack. If a college does hold participation in the walkout against an applicant, there's not much a student can do -- except maybe apply to another school.