Students plan walk out protest for student voice

Student Government is coordinating a walkout on March 14 during fourth period from 9:53 to 10:30. It will feature a small march, a few student speakers, and a musical performance. The event is still entirely optional for all students, so the school day will continue as normal for those who decide not to walk out. Student voice is an important point in today’s political and social climate. The young people in Parkland, Florida have shown how important the words of the younger generation can be for our national discourse. In light of that power, students in our district are putting together a protest to empower students.

“We want to make sure we’re getting our message across that this is about student voice, so we want to make sure that students are protesting in whatever way they see fit,” Student Government member Jyostna Balmuri said. T-shirts will be sold in the Commons, there will be the signing of a #IAmWalkingOutBecasue banner that lists reasons for students walking out, letter writing stations for students to write to local and state legislators, as well as poster making sessions for the event before and after school and during lunches during the week preceding the event. 

“This is a choice. I might add. Those who do not choose to participate will stay in their classrooms and the teacher will continue teaching unless all of the students in the classroom decide to participate,” Student Government member Alexa Jordan said.

Students interested in participating should be aware of the restrictions on any form of protest on school grounds. While normally walking out of school results in disciplinary action, students participating in the walkout will be allowed to do so on this occasion. Those missing class are still responsible for work they miss. “It’s a choice that kids are making. That choice means that they are willing to miss class and suffer the consequences of needing to make up stuff that they miss, in that case, the school can respect that,” Social Studies chair and Student Government sponsor Donald Pankuch said.

Student rights to protest have been a critical issue in the United States for many years. When Mary Beth Tinker wore an armband to protest the Vietnam war at her junior high, she took her district to court over their attempt at punishing her for speaking out. The case, Tinker v Des Moines, ended in a 7-2 decision. The supreme court held that because the protest was passive, did not interfere with the learning process, and because students do not lose their first amendment rights in public schools, the protest was legal and unpunishable.

Students are allowed to exercise their first amendment rights in public schools so long as their protest is not disruptive to the learning process. That means that students are allowed to wear pro-NRA shirts or put women’s rights pins on their backpack, for example, so long as in doing so they do not interrupt the learning environment.

While administrations can interpret the ambiguity of ‘disruptive to the school environment’, there is supreme court precedent for what does constitute a disruption.

In Morse v Frederick, Joseph Frederick sued his principal for giving him an unlawful suspension for holding a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at a school event. The supreme court took the case, coming to the decision that while Frederick should retain his rights to political protest under the first amendment in public school, this did not extend to pro-drug references at school events: that was deemed a disruption of the school environment.

For students interested in making their voice heard, these court cases establish a powerful precedent and provide a guideline in which to do so correctly. The administration is within their rights to punish students for disrupting the classroom environment in any way, including protest signs depicting weapons or supporting illegal drug use.

The walkout is meant to encourage student voice and promote unity within the district. Across the district, there are varying and diverse opinions, but the protest is not there to isolate or alienate. “All three schools tried to come up with a mission for the walkout, and the best we could get to was that students want change,” Pankuch added.