• School walkouts: What are students' rights?

    By: Monique Valdes

    Updated:

    Students, teachers and parents across the U.S. will be taking part in a walkout Wednesday to bring attention to their fight to end gun violence in schools. 

    “ENOUGH National School Walkout” was organized by students working with the Women’s March Youth Empower to call for action on gun control.

    Read: School walkouts, sit-ins planned after Florida shooting

    The walkouts are planned at 10 a.m. on the one-month anniversary of when 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

    Orange County Public Schools said it's supporting the walkout and expects 50 to 70 of the district's schools to participate.

    "They're also going to commit to introducing themselves to 17 new friends on campus throughout the day," OCPS spokesman Scott Howat said.

    School districts in Seminole and Brevard counties said they're not endorsing the demonstration.

    What rights do students and teachers have when it comes to walkouts? Here are some answers from the American Civil Liberties Union:

    1. Can a school punish students for taking part?

    The law in most places requires students to go to school, so schools can discipline students for missing class. But students cannot be disciplined more harshly because of the political nature of the message behind their actions. 

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    The exact punishment students could face will vary by their state, school district and school. 
    Most Florida school districts allow students to take part in protests on school grounds as long as it’s peaceful and follows federal, state and local regulations.

    2. What if it turns disruptive?

    School officials are allowed to put a stop to a walkout if it becomes disruptive. 

    Students cannot block streets or let the walkout escalate to civil disobedience. 

    Read: How difficult is it to purchase a gun in Florida?

    According to the ACLU, what counts as disruptive will vary. A school disagreeing with a student's position or thinking their speech is controversial or in “bad taste” is not enough to qualify.

    3. Can students distribute leaflets, pamphlets and other literature without a permit?

    Students may approach pedestrians on public sidewalks with leaflets, newspapers, petitions and solicitations for donations without a permit, according to the ACLU.

    Read: Florida school shooting: What we know about the victims

    The organization says these types of activities are legal as long as entrances to buildings are not blocked and passersby are not detained.

    4. Can the school keep students from coming back after a walkout?

    Locking out students is essentially the same thing as a suspension, so it depends on whether the school usually issues suspensions for missing class. If getting suspended is not a punishment for an unexcused absence at a particular school, then getting locked out after a walkout at that school is not allowed.

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    5. How are students' rights different at a private school than a public school?

    The First Amendment applies to public schools’ actions, but not those of private schools, so there is much less protection for students’ speech at a private school. 

    6. Can students be arrested?

    As long as no laws are broken, students shouldn’t have to worry about being arrested.

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    7. What are students' rights on social media? 

    A school cannot punish students for content they post off-campus and outside of school hours that does not relate to school.

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