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Schools should use planned national student walkout as opportunity for civil discourse, ACLU says

• Updated Mar 13, 2018 at 2:12 PM

The ACLU of Ohio released an open letter to school superintendents, principals and teachers across the state Monday, encouraging officials not to punish students who choose to participate in the scheduled nationwide school walkouts on Wednesday.

While schools may decide to designate students who walk out from class as unexcused or truant, ACLU of Ohio officials say they are urging educators to seize this opportunity as a teachable moment.

“Scores of young people across Ohio and the nation will use their voices to speak out on an important social issue this week and that should be celebrated,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director J. Bennett Guess. “No matter where a person stands on gun control, these actions represent exactly what educators want their students to be — civically engaged and passionate.”

Students’ First Amendment rights are protected while in school, according to the ACLU. Political speech, such as wearing clothing with messages, circulating petitions, and distributing literature is protected so long as it does not disrupt the learning environment. Walkouts are considered civil disobedience because young people are required by law to attend school; however, they may not be punished more severely than other students because of their speech.

School officials are not required by law to punish students for walking out of class, ACLU officials added.

“Students’ actions during such political moments, and the lessons they learn, will stay with them throughout their lives,” Guess concludes. “Public schools are essential in educating young people about democracy, and that includes their role in enacting it.”

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