LOS ANGELES — Ahead of planned student walkouts this month, the ACLU of California has advised school officials across the state to adhere to constitutional and state laws protecting students who are expressing themselves politically.
Citing California Education Code, the ACLU stated that students may not be suspended for participating in walkouts or off-campus protests. School officials may choose to punish students less harshly (or not at all) for participating in walk-outs and protests, as long as all expressive activity is treated equally regardless of content or viewpoint.
"The First Amendment prohibits schools from disciplining a student more harshly for missing class for a protest than for any other unexcused absence," said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU of Southern California.
The ACLU encourages schools to teach the value of civic and political engagement, and to foster class discussions that include diverse views.
"We must ensure that our schools are supportive, welcoming, and safe," says Sylvia Torres-Guillén, director of education equity for the ACLU of California. "We hope school administrators will not discipline students for protesting and instead take this as an opportunity to engage in a discussion with students about the issues they are standing up for."
The ACLU advisory was prompted by reports that some California school districts are considering excessive disciplinary action against students for participating in two scheduled nationwide events in response to the recent Parkland school shooting: the National School Walkout on Wednesday, March 14, and the March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24.
The advisory was sent to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the California Charter Schools Association, plus the school districts in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, Elk Grove, and Fresno.
Read the letters here:
California Charter Schools Association
California Department of Education and State Board of Education
Elk Grove Unified School District
San Francisco Unified School District
Oakland Unified School District
Fresno Unified School District
Los Angeles Unified School District
Long Beach Unified School District
San Diego Unified School District
More information about students' rights regarding protests and political speech is available on our website, My School My Rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union of California is a collaboration of the three ACLU affiliates in the state: ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of Southern California, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.