ACLU Offers Guidance to Kentucky School Districts Ahead of Walkout

Lawrence Kim
March 18, 2018

The move from the state American Civil Liberties Union came after a Courier Journal report that students in Oldham and Bullitt counties would face disciplinary action for participating in the 10 a.m. walkout which is set to last 17 minutes - one minute for every life lost in February 14's school shooting in Parkland, Fla, said Heather Gatnarek, an attorney with the group.

Last week, the school district sent out a letter to parents and students saying it could not condone students leaving the classroom to participate in the national school walkout due to safety reasons.

The ACLU Kentucky is urging school district officials to allow students to participate in a national walkout against gun violence on Wednesday without fear of discipline. "If the discipline is commensurate with what a student would get for walking out for any other goal it wouldn't violate the speech rights of the students", she said. According to ACLU-TN's letter, "Students can not be considered disruptive for wearing t-shirts, armbands, or other clothes or accessories that bear political viewpoints - nor face discipline as a result - just because someone may disagree with their particular viewpoint". That includes a number of students in schools in central Pennsylvania, who have planned walkouts on Wednesday.

Many school leaders have announced they will empower students to speak and act, using the activity to stress the importance of civic participation.

ACLU-TN's letter further explains that the Constitution forbids disciplining students more harshly for politically-motivated conduct than for similar, non-political behavior.

"We are letting kids know proactively about choices they are going to make - we have to stand by the policies of U32". We can't choose when to and when not to follow policy. Several schools in the district are holding walkouts and other events with the permission and help of school administrators. "I know they have said it privately but I don't know whether privately is enough", Shaffer said.

Students are planning to have moments of silence for the 17 victims.

The ACLU says students' First Amendment rights are protected while in school, adding that 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.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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