The Needville Independent School District near Houston, Texas, has preemptively tried to dissuade students from participating in protests during school hours next month, including planned walkouts organized by students from Marjorie Douglas Stoneman High School in the wake of a school shooting that left 17 people dead.
In a note sent to parents via email and social media, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes said that any students who participate in the March for Our Lives or other anti-gun protests would be punished for their involvement with a suspension of up to three days. “Please be advised that the Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness!!” Rhodes wrote.
“Should students choose to do so, they will be suspended from school for three days and face all the consequences that come along with an out of school suspension. Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved.”
While parents and students are calling on Rhodes to rescind his threat, legal experts are reminding the students that it is well within their democratic rights to protest and they should not be punished for exercising those rights. “Students don’t abandon their right to free speech at the schoolhouse door,” Kali Cohn, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, told Refinery29.
“The Constitution protects students when they speak or express political or social views in school, so long as their speech is not disruptive. Administrators can’t censor political speech they might find distasteful, nor can they punish students more harshly for missing school to take part in a political protest than they would for any other unexcused absence. Moments like this one create important opportunities for students to learn about civic engagement, and schools should support them — not punish them — as they use their political voices.”
Besides reminding the students of their democratic rights, at least one lawyer has offered to represent any kids for free if they are punished for protesting. “I’m a Texas-barred attorney and will represent these students pro bono should they choose to exercise their rights to free speech,” lawyer Steve Golden tweeted.
After Golden tweeted, other legal professionals eligible to work within the state of Texas showed their support by offering to help with any cases that may arise from the student walkouts.
(photos via Zach Gibson/Getty Images + Joe Raedle/Getty Images)