March 12, 2018 — Press Release: Schools Should Use Planned National Student Walkout as Opportunity for Civil Discourse, Says ACLU.
Watch the ACLU's People Power Webinar training "Students' Rights: Speech, Walkouts, and Other Protests"
As Americans, we have the right to peacefully protest. Our nation was founded on political dissent, and joining others in peaceful assembly is vital to a thriving democracy.
Students' Protest Rights
- Schools can't punish you for your speech unless it disrupts school.
- Schools can typically discipline you for missing class, but not because of the content of your protest.
- You have the right to wear clothing expressing your opinion if it doesn't disrupt schools or violate the school's neutral dress code.
- Outside of school, you enjoy the same rights to protest and speak as anyone else.
What Does Ohio law say about students who skip school?
- "Truancy," as Ohio defines it, means absence from school without a legitimate excuse.
- Ohio's truancy laws don't kick in until a student has been absent without excuse for 38-40 school hours in 1 month, or 65+ more school hours in a year.
- Students cannot be forced to miss school as a result of truancy. Truancy cannot be punished by suspension, expulsion, or removing a student from school solely on the basis of the student's absence from school without a legitimate excuse.
- Instead, school districts' policies regarding truancy must be aimed at reducing the absences, like notifying the student's parent/guardian, developing an intervention plan, providing counseling for the student, or requesting or requiring the parent to attend parental involvement programs.
- Only in the most extreme cases can the school take legal action against the parent.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: What kinds of speech can schools regulate?
- A: Schools can regulate school-sponsored speech, speech that is vulgar/offensive, speech that causes a disruption in school, speech that interferes with other students' rights, speech that incites illegal activity or celebrates drug use, speech that is "obscene," or speech that makes false personal attacks.
- Q: Can schools ban certain student groups and allow others?
- A: No. The Equal Access Act applies, which says that a school cannot allow some extracurricular groups but prohibit others. School officials cannot discriminate based on the political, religious, or philosophical nature of a group.
- Q: Can school officials control the content of school-sponsored publications?
- A: Yes, for educational reasons, to maintain school safety, or to protect the rights of other students. But they cannot remove an article from a student newspaper just because they don't agree with its views, or can the censor an article that criticizes the school.
- Q: Can you get in trouble for sexting, even if it is on your own time?
- A: Yes. Ohio treats sexting as a crime, and you could be charged with producing or distributing child pornography. It is best to not engage in sexting and delete any sexting photos you receive.
- Q: Can schools enforce a certain dress code?
- A: Yes. Clothes are an important form of expression, but they are not allowed to be disruptive. This means schools can have reasonable dress codes, including bans on piercings, hair colors, tattoos, and certain dance attire. However, political speech on t-shirts is allowed, even if school officials don't like the message, and religious attire is allowed.
- Watch the ACLU's People Power Webinar training "Students' Rights: Speech, Walkouts, and Other Protests"
- Read the ACLU Blog "Can Schools Discipline Students for Protesting?"
- Visit the ACLU of Ohio's blog "To Be Obedient, or To Be Disobedient, That Is The Question."
- Visit the ACLU's Know Your Rights: Students’ Free Speech Rights in Public Schools webpage.
- Download a printable version of the ACLU's Students' Free Speech Rights in Public Schools Fact Sheet.
- Download a PowerPoint of the ACLU's Students: Know Your Rights! Presentation.
- Let the ACLU know how your school, and schools around the country, are responding to your walkout.
DISCLAIMER – The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Every case depends on the specific facts and circumstances involved. To submit a complaint for review, please go to our Legal Help page.