Whether it is the Fridays For Futures campaign where thousands of students have been walking out weekly or the March For Our Lives movement where millions of students walked out across the United States, student activism has been trending globally. However, the students who have participated in these many similar events have been subject to varying punishments. While some faced no penalty, other students have faced suspension. Across the Cobb Country school district in Georgia, for example, all students were threatened with a five-day suspension if they participated in the national walkout to raise awareness for gun violence. Conversely, many other public school students across the country were not threatened with such severe consequences.
One of the main goals of education is to create good citizens. A significant component of being a good citizen is participating in society. Protesting injustices and raising awareness are great examples of people participating in society, which is what these walkouts effectively achieve. But if one of education’s primary goals really is to promote civic engagement, why are so many students discouraged from participating?
Firstly, schools do not want their students to be missing class. In most schools, missing a class is met with disciplinary action unless it is an excused absence. One of the leading causes of controversy around student protesting is in determining whether or not a student-led walkout constitutes excused absence. One might argue that it should be an excused absence because it is encouraging civil participating. On the other hand, others might say that this should not be an excused absence because students who only want to get out of class could easily abuse this power.
Additionally, class time is extremely valuable, and schools do not want students to miss any. Liability is also an issue to take into account. Schools could get into loads of trouble for allowing students to leave campus willingly. In the unlikely event of an injury, the school could be in even more trouble. All in all, students need to be civilly aware, but student-led walkouts can leave the school liable.
Political Identity Of School
Public schools are supposed to be secular and not have a political affiliation. When a school supports a politically endorsed walkout or event, the school essentially takes a political stance. These political biases exhibited by schools can then lead to further problems. In opposition, one could argue that the school is not creating a political affiliation, but is merely allowing students to be active members of society. Regardless, it is clear that student-led walkouts leave schools in an awkward position concerning how to operate.
I am a definite supporter of young people participating in society and sharing their opinions and voices. Still, also I recognize the massive liability that schools internalize when they support the walkouts. I believe that student-led walkouts should be neither encouraged nor discouraged by the school, but simply allowed. I believe that students should inform educators when they are planning on walking out so that they do not miss any important information. But, I maintain that students engaging in walkouts should not face any disciplinary actions others than a written reflection and justification of their absence.
This post was written by U4SC Programs Assistant, Teddy Delisio.[Image Attribute: Phil Roeder]