School Walkouts, Marches and Protests – Legal Considerations for School Districts


School Walkouts, Marches and Protests – Legal Considerations for School Districts

Mar 6, 2018

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In the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and other recent events involving gun violence, school communities across the country are organizing responsive activities such as school walkouts, marches and protests.  We have received a number of inquiries from school districts concerning how to best prepare for and respond to student and staff participation in these activities. 

While every district’s approach will be unique, we recommend taking the following steps when evaluating how to plan for and address these responsive activities:

  1. Be proactive. Consider allowing students to participate in a schoolwide or district-wide event that will provide students with an opportunity to express themselves in a safe and non-disruptive manner.
  2. Contact law enforcement. Involve local law enforcement in the planning process and ensure that law enforcement are equipped to handle any unexpected or unplanned activities that may arise.
  3. Develop a plan for students who do not wish to participate. Prepare alternative educational activities for students who do not wish to participate in the event.  Consider designating a centralized location where students who are not participating should report during the event.
  4. Review policies and procedures. Review your policies and procedures regarding absenteeism and truancy to ensure these policies are fairly and consistently applied.  Review your board policy regarding visitors to and conduct on school property and develop a plan for managing visitors outside the school community who may wish to participate in the event.
  5. Communicate with parents and students. Communicate with parents and students prior to the event to outline expectations.
  6. Communicate with and establish expectations for staff. Communicate with faculty and staff members to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities prior to, during and after the event.  Be clear what expectations you have for staff remaining in classrooms or in the school and to whom they should direct any concerns or questions.
  7. Be cautious about restricting student speech. Ensure that faculty and staff members are not encouraging students to express a particular viewpoint or message.
  8. Remain viewpoint-neutral. Carefully consider how to refer to any planned event, particularly in written communications, so as not to inadvertently express a political viewpoint.

Should you wish to discuss these considerations in further detail, please do not hesitate to contact a Robbins Schwartz attorney.