By Doug Criss
March 13, 2018
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 the parent of one), you probably have lots of questions.
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Can my school punish me for taking part?
The answer to that is “mostly no.” Students have a First Amendment right to protest, just like anybody else — but some schools could hit students who walk out with an unexcused absence. Also, if the walkout is disruptive, schools could stop students.
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.
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. After all, students don’t have a constitutional right to not do work.
Can a teacher schedule a test during the walkout?
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 — but students don’t have a lot of recourse.
Will participating hurt my chance of getting into college?
Several colleges have already told prospective students that unexcused absences resulting from the walkout won’t affect their admission, but there’s no guarantee that other schools won’t feel differently.
Can my parents sign me out of class to participate in the walkout — or avoid it?
It’s OK for parents to take their children out of school for the time period of the walkout or for the entire school day, if they so wish.
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Do I have to stay on campus when I walk out?
Students don’t lose their First Amendment rights when they step off campus, but for safety reasons, school officials certainly hope students remain on campus.
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If I go to a private school, what are my rights?
None under the First Amendment while in school. Those students must adhere to their schools’ policies.
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I’m not a US citizen. Do I still have the First Amendment right to protest?
Non-citizen students are viewed as having the same rights as the citizen students they are protesting with — as least while the walkout or protest stays on campus.
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