Protest Walkouts: Know your Rights

In light of the election result, many students have begun discussing the possibility of school walkouts. Here is a guide to student protest rights and what potential consequences they could face.

What is protected:

  • Right to assemble: The right to assemble should not be limited unless the assembly poses a reasonable threat of violence.
  • Protesting without a permit: You should not need a permit for demonstrations that will not disrupt traffic beyond normal use of the streets and sidewalks and will not cause public safety concerns.
  • Use of amplification devices: You may use amplification devices as long as your intent is to communicate your message, not to disturb the peace.
  • Equal punishments for lack of attendance: The school cannot change the severity of the punishment for missing class because of the intent to participate in a political protest. The punishment for missing class must follow the district’s standard attendance policy.
  • Suspension and expulsion: Walk-outs are generally not a cause for expulsion. The California Education Code states: “It is the intent of the Legislature that alternatives to suspensions or expulsion be imposed against any pupil who is truant, tardy, or otherwise absent from school activities.”

What is not protected:

  • Speech encouraging lawless action: While the government cannot stop you from talking generally about ideas or future events, free speech does not extend to libel, slander, obscenity, true threats, or speech that incites imminent violence or lawbreaking.
  • Lack of attendance: Any class missed while participating in a walk-out may be considered an unexcused absence. Three or more unexcused absences can result in a student being classified as a “truant.” In this case, the student’s parents or guardian will be contacted, and a warning may be placed in the student’s file and sent to local police. Grade penalties may also be enforced.
  • Missing school work: Teachers are not required to provide make-up work for assignments students miss due to unexcused absences.
  • Breaking laws: Students who break any laws, such as committing violence or vandalism, will be held responsible for them. Laws still apply during political protests.