Several school officials across the U.S. are threatening to punish students and teachers who exercise their First Amendment right during planned marches, protests and school walk-outs.
The shooting in Florida last Wednesday has sparked a nationwide debate about gun violence, and high school students are letting lawmakers know they've had enough by walking out of school and marching on capital buildings. Some school districts have responded by threatening to punish participants, regardless of the motivation for their absence.
The most inflammatory case so far has been in The Needville Independent School District in Texas, where they have promised to suspend any students who take part in a walk-out planned for next month, regardless of notes from parents or any other factors. The announcement was made in a letter to parents as well as a statement on Facebook by the Superintendent, Curtis Rhodes.
Texas school district says it will suspend all students who take part in "any type of protest or awareness” in aftermath of the Parkland school shooting: https://t.co/LTegTHAS78 pic.twitter.com/jfaN0WsVw6— Sarah McLaughlin (@sarahemclaugh) February 21, 2018
"Should students choose to do so, they will be suspended from school for 3 days and face all the consequences that come along with an out of school suspension."
"Life is about choices, and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative," Rhodes went on. "We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved."
"All will be suspended for 3 days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline."
The Facebook post has since been deleted as public outcry reached a fever-pitch, though the Needville Independent School District hasn't said whether or not that means that the policy still stands.
"Respect yourself, your fellow students and the Needville Independent School District and please understand that we are here for an education and not a political protest," the statement concluded.
A school district in Waukesha, Wisconsin sent a similar message home to parents, informing them that the school district would not excuse students or teachers who participated in the walk-out.
"Participation in a walkout is disruptive and against school regulations, and will subject students to disciplinary measures," Superintendent Todd Gray said in the letter.
In a follow-up statement on Wednesday, Gray clarified that the school district simply wanted to let parents know that the event was being planned by an outside group, and was not organized by the school. He encouraged students to find other ways to make their voices heard without leaving class.
"At no time have we said students cannot make a statement peacefully while staying in school," Gray said, adding that he had not gotten requests to participate from any students or student groups.
"We acknowledge that individuals have a right to demonstrate to support a cause. Therefore, if parents wish to excuse their children from school to attend such an event or demonstration, that is their right," he said.