Please note that this information is provided only as general guidance on the topic of student protests and should not be construed as legal advice. Because every situation presents unique facts, please consult with your school district’s legal counsel before taking any definitive action.
The March for Our Lives event is scheduled for Saturday, March 24th. This event encourages students to march in Washington, DC and in other cities. More information can be found on the event’s official website.
IPA Guidance: This event falls on Saturday and should not interfere with regular school activities.
School staff members who wish to participate in these protests must do so as private citizens only and not as representatives of the school or district.
School Walkout 2018 – The Anniversary of Columbine is scheduled for Friday, April 20th. This event encourages students to hold a vigil/protest in front of their local school to advocate for full-time security at the front door of every school. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
IPA Guidance: Schools must decide whether or not to excuse students who leave school grounds to participate in these protests. Illinois law states that students are considered excused from school only in the following circumstances: “illness, observance of a religious holiday, death in the immediate family, family emergency,…other situations beyond the control of the student as determined by the board of education…or such other circumstances which cause reasonable concern to the parent for the safety or health of the student.” Under a strict interpretation of this statute, students would be considered unexcused from school if they leave school grounds to participate in this form of protest.
Protests held on school grounds should be allowed unless such protests: (1) cause a material or substantial disruption; (2) interfere with the educational mission of the school; (3) cause a safety concern; (4) use words or symbols that are vulgar, lewd, obscene or plainly offensive; or (5) use words or symbols that are threatening to school staff or other students.
Examples of student protests that violate the above conditions may include: conduct in the classroom that disrupts teacher instruction, signs or posters that contain profanity or graphic images, and speech that makes overt physical threats toward students or school staff. Note that school officials bear the burden of proof in establishing that student conduct is inappropriate and should be barred.
Other School Walkouts that Occur on School Property During the School Day
IPA Guidance: For student walkouts that are planned during the school day, we believe that students and schools are best served by recognizing such events and coordinating with students and parents to assure student safety and an orderly return to learning. We recommend informing students and parents of the following: (1) students will be allowed to participate in the event, provided it is of a limited duration and remains peaceful and non-disruptive; (2) students are required to remain on school property at all times; and (3) students are required to return to their regular schedule immediately upon conclusion of the protest.
In order to keep school grounds safe and secure and provide for an orderly transition back to the learning environment, parents, members of the public and other visitors should not be allowed unregulated access to school grounds during such student protests. All individuals who wish to access school property must follow the regular policies and practices for visitors, which generally require the visitor to check in at the school office and obtain a name badge.
With respect to members of the media, school officials should likewise deny unfettered access to school property when student protests occur during the school day. We make this recommendation in the interest of student safety and because an overwhelming number of students are minors (under the age of 18). School officials may decide to honor media requests for access provided: (1) members of the media follow all policies and practices regulating visitors to the school; and (2) members of the media do not film or record any student unless that student is at least 18 years old or the student’s parent or guardian has consented in writing.
School officials should not restrict members of the media who attempt to talk with students off school property and outside of the school day.
Schools must allow students to wear t-shirts, armbands and other items as a form of protest, provided that the items do not: (1) violate the student dress code; (2) cause a material or substantial disruption; (3) interfere with the educational mission of the school; (4) cause a safety concern; (5) use words or symbols that are vulgar, lewd, obscene or plainly offensive; or (6) use words or symbols that are threatening to other students. Note that school officials bear the burden of proof in establishing the above conditions, which would justify barring the student conduct.