The ACLU Kentucky is urging school district officials to allow students to participate in a national walkout against gun violence on Wednesday without fear of discipline.
The move from the state American Civil Liberties Union came after a Courier Journal report that students in Oldham and Bullitt counties would face disciplinary action for participating in the 10 a.m. walkout which is set to last 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in Feb. 14’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla, said Heather Gatnarek, an attorney with the group.
In an open letter to school districts on Monday, Gatnarek amd ACLU Kentucky Interim Legal Director Amy Cubbage asked educators to give students space and access to express themselves. “Specifically, we ask that you ensure that students at your school who choose to participate in the March 14 protests can do so without risk of disciplinary action or interference from local law enforcement,” the letter said.
The ACLU officials wrote that if a district chooses to enforce disciplinary action against students who participate in the March 14 protests, students cannot be punished more harshly than students who are absent for other unexcused reasons.
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“ To do so would amount to a content-based regulation of speech, which would violate students’ constitutional rights,” the letter said. “Students ‘do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’ Schools provide students not only with an academic education, but also an education in engaged citizenship and democracy. Therefore, we urge you to instruct school personnel to permit students to participate in this protest without fear of discipline or arrest.”
Fayette County Public Schools officials have previously said that students in Lexington will not be disciplined for participating. Several schools in the district are holding walkouts and other events with the permission and help of school administrators.
Gatnarek told the Herald-Leader Tuesday that ACLU Kentucky sent separate letters directly to officials in Oldham and Bullitt County after the Courier -Journal reported on March 7 that those districts would discipline students who participated in the walkout. Officials in both districts said they were concerned that the walkout would threaten student safety.
The ACLU officials said it was understandable that students “may have strong reactions to the current issues related to school safety, and their efforts to understand, engage, and speak out about that should be encouraged, not deterred.”