Student walkouts lead to concern over punishment


Megan Walker, Staff Writer

After the events that transpired at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, public high school students have staged walkouts in protest of current political situations in regards to guns. In response to this, certain high schools have stated they will punish students for missing class during walkouts, resulting in suspensions or other forms of punishment. The superintendent of Needleville schools near Houston Texas, Curtis Rhodes, stated students participating in walkouts would face a three-day suspension.

Johnston administrators have stated that they are looking to work with students. “I think from an administrator standpoint what we want to do is work with students,” Assistant Principal Jerry Stratton said. “Our number one priority is to make sure that everyone is safe, that it is organized, and that there’s communication between whatever group is interested in doing this and administration so we have an understanding that we can support your freedom of speech rights. At the same time, there’s a student safety issue, there are parent expectations.”

Stratton also stated that the school has been working with other schools in the Central Iowa Metropolitan League (CIML), which is a group of schools in the Des Moines Metro area, to figure out the best way to accommodate for the walkouts. Stratton also asked that groups planning on participating in the walkout approach the administration to make sure the school is able to maintain a level of safety while students are exercising their rights.

Many students around the country have become anxious that their high school may punish them for exercising their right to protest. Schools do have the right to punish their students for walking out of class, even if they are doing it in protest. Public schools and their states follow one of two court cases when it comes to students exercising their first amendment rights at school, Tinker v. Des Moines or Hazlewood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Iowa follows the Tinker v. Des  Moines supreme court ruling which states that schools cannot punish students for exercising their first amendment rights unless it disrupts classes and interrupts the functions of the school. If students were to walk out, it is disruptive to the school day and classes which would give the schools permission to punish the students who participate in a walkout.

In response to high schools threatening to punish students for walking out of class, universities have made statements on Twitter stating they will not punish students who were suspended or punished for taking part in peaceful protest. If violence were to break out during the protests, universities would most likely view the suspension or other punishment differently. For students considering walking out, the University of Iowa stated on twitter, “The University of Iowa respects the right to peacefully protest. Admission to UI will not be negatively affected for prospective students participating in non-violent activism.” Iowa State University also stated the same message on Twitter writing, “A message to future Cyclones: Iowa State University values the honest and respectful expression of ideas by both its current and prospective students. A disciplinary action associated with peaceful participation in non-violent protest will not affect your admission status.”