As School Districts Prepare For #Walkout, 'Teachable Moment' Also A Disciplinary Risk

Mar 13, 2018

Arkansas school students are expected to join thousands around the country March 14 in a national school walkout at 10 a.m. (local time). Billed as “Enough,” the demonstration is a coordinated public response to the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It’s expected to last 17 minutes — one for each victim.

In Fayetteville, school officials are helping students coordinate a walkout at 10 a.m., though a district document also recognizes that some students have obtained a permit from the city to march on the Washington Count Courthouse — a demonstration the district has gently warned against.

Meanwhile, in nearby Bentonville, the school board Monday took an extemporaneous vote to uphold the student handbook and give detention to any student who leaves class — then they tweeted it out.

Former Bentonville Supt. Michael Poore is now superintendent of the state’s largest school district —  Little Rock.

“We’re looking at this again, because we’ve orchestrated the ways that students can demonstrate, that we will not do anything in punishment as they leave [at] 10 o’clock.”

Kristen Garner is a lawyer with the Arkansas School Boards Association. She says the association has gotten as many as 20 calls, typically from small school districts in the state wondering what to do.

“Our experience is, our school administrators want to do right, and when they make mistakes they’re not rubbing their hands together in glee [over] suppressing constitutional rights.”

"Our experience is, our school administrators want to do right, and when they make mistakes, they're not rubbing their hands together in glee [over] suppressing constitutional rights," says Arkansas School Boards Association lawyer Kristen Garner.

She pointed out that the Vietnam-Era Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District decision by the U.S. Supreme Court supports students’ rights to peaceably (and not obscenely) demonstrate. Students should know that while they may be subject to standard discipline for walking out, they are not subject to extra or double discipline, she says.

“One of my concerns is, I’m really not so much worried about the student demonstrations. I’m concerned about the counter demonstrations, and keeping students safe, if people in the community take angry or perhaps even violent exception.”

For its part the state Department of Education is referring districts to the Council of Chief State School Officers guidance. It says, generally, that safety and “teachable moments” should be top of mind, but disorderly conduct should not be excused.

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