Do we have a right to walk out of school in protest?

“The Constitution recognizes the right to organize others and protest on behalf of a social purpose about which they care.   The right is at the core of the First Amendment, which recognizes the rights to freedom of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly — which are central to democracy.”

Young people have the right to speak about their passions, circulate petitions and posters, and wear expressive clothing, as long as they do not disrupt the ability of others to learn, violate any justifiable policies of the schools.

Students have a right to leave school in order to protest or otherwise demonstrate to protest a wrong or support a cause.

However, schools have policies and can discipline you for missing class and, if you decide to walkout in protest, you should know school policies, and what schools can do to discipline you.

You also should know that Martin Luther King said that there is a moral responsibility to protest or even violate a law that is unjust, and warned that this disobedience will have consequences for which the protest should prepare.

Here are some materials or videos about youth protest or youth roles in civil rights movements

Youth voices:

  • A vice principal at High Tech High School threatened to have dozens of students arrested while they held a silent sit-in to protest the proposed firing of a performing arts teacher. A student recorded the audio of the exchange:  https://youtu.be/z1bcFT1hiB8 
  • Hundreds of Brookline High School students made a unified statement on the front steps of their Massachusetts school to denounce a racist Snapchat video, which targets one of their peers. CBS Boston’s Anna Meiler reports:  https://youtu.be/_NvKNFqdT0A 
  • Do you want to make an impact on the world? High school senior Allison Apfeld shares about different types of protests and how they affect policy makers. Allison is a student, environmentalist, and political activist. She is involved with Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run organization encouraging youth political engagement, and Inspire U.S., a non-partisan organization promoting youth voter registration and participation:  https://youtu.be/OkleypgJTew 
  • Historically, protests have led to improved protection of human rights and continue to help define and protect civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in all parts of the world:  https://youtu.be/AdmZaMER1A0 

Teen climate activist Feliquan Charlemagne shares why he marches as students take to the street in protest:  https://youtu.be/LJxgPdDhKWY

Here are some discussion questions from the readings:

  • What is the meaning of freedom? How do we define freedom? 
  • What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility? What are your basic freedoms? How are they protected? 
  • How do we exercise freedom in our homes, at school, in our communities? 
  • What are your Constitutional rights? How are they protected?
  • why is it important to protect speech, even if that speech is unpopular?
  • what kinds of actions are included in the term “speech” as it is found in the First Amendment?
  • How has the understanding of what is protected speech changed as technology has changed?
  • when is it acceptable under the First Amendment to limit or punish speech?
  • Should students be allowed to protest, such as by kneeling during the national anthem, during school hours or while on school property?
  • Does the First Amendment protect the speech rights of controversial or “offensive” public speakers on college campuses? Does the First Amendment treat government-run colleges (public colleges) differently than private colleges?

Listed below are tips and resources for teachers:

Lesson Plans for Teachers:

The academy aims to prepare a new generation of civil rights leaders. For more information contact Barry Checkoway (barrych@umich.edu).

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