ACLU Urges Harford County Schools Not to Ban Students from Participating in Nationwide Walkout
ACLU Also Releases "Fact Sheet" on Student Walkouts in Public Schools
BALTIMORE - Responding to complaints from parents and students that a March 7 letter from Harford County Schools seems to have banned participation in the nationwide "Walk Out for Safe Schools" planned for this Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland has written to Superintendent Barbara Canavan, cautioning that schools may not punish students more severely for leaving class to engage in free speech activity then they would for any other unexcused absence.
The national "Walk Out for Safe Schools" walkouts are being organized as peaceful walkouts from class that will last for 17 minutes, from 10 am to 10:17 am. The Harford County Schools letter suggested that students who participate would be disciplined for "disrupting school operations."
"Under the First Amendment schools may not use the threat of more severe punishment to silence students' political speech," said Sonia Kumar, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Maryland. Back in 1969, in Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." When school officials threaten to impose discipline for particular speech, they are, in effect, prohibiting it.
Kumar continued: "We encourage Harford County Schools to adopt an approach similar to other Maryland school systems, which recognize students' First Amendment rights and affirm that they will not single out politically-motivated absences from class for harsher punishment."
The ACLU's staff will remain in touch with the students and parents who have reached out to us to ensure that students are not wrongly disciplined based on their First Amendment protected expression.