The price to protest
When Jason Stockley, St. Louis police officer, was found innocent after murdering Anthony Smith in September 2017, KHS responded loudly. More than 110 students of all grades gathered to protest current events of racial injustice Sept.18, 2017. Six months later, students gathered again for the March for Our Lives protest to honor the students who died at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting March. 14, 2018. At both events students who participated received an unexcused absence for missing class. Although students have the right to express their beliefs, 88 percent (79/90) of TKC believes students should receive consequences for participating in protests during school hours.
February 8, 2019
With fists in the air and heads held high, students at KHS and across the country left their classrooms at 10:00 a.m. to honor the 17 students who died at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting March 14, 2018. Some people came with posters. Some people came with prepared speeches. Some came with nothing. But they all came, knowing their actions would end in consequences.
As students, we are guaranteed the right to express our beliefs at school under the First Amendment and was affirmed by the Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. However, the First Amendment does not free us from the consequences that come with exercising that right if we choose to walk out during school hours. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), students cannot be punished for practicing free speech, but they can be punished for breaking school policy. At KHS, reasons for excused absences include illness, doctor appointments, traveling or death of a family member. Therefore, KHS students who participated in either the walkout following the Stockley verdict or the March for Our Lives walkout received an unexcused absence for leaving class. And they should. Without some form of consequence, protests would appear pointless. Students may as well claim they are “exercising their right of free speech” to manipulate their way out of class. Regardless of the intention to miss class, no student should be exempted from the school’s policy. Students who choose to protest should know and accept potential consequences. After all, protesting loses its impact without sacrifice.
According to Dr. Michael Havener, KHS principal, consequences vary by state and district. Unlike KHS, where students received an unexcused absence for missing class, other schools resorted to more serious consequences. CNN reported students in Needville Independent School District in Needville, Texas, who participated in the March for Our Lives walkout were suspended for three days. Though the Needville School District students had much more to lose, they still had a choice on whether they wanted to participate in the protest. Those who protested were ultimately responsible for the cost of their decision.
In any case of civil disobedience, whether it be in the past or today, sacrifice is always a primary factor in any protest. When the colonists dumped crates of tea in the Boston Harbor in retaliation to Great Britain, they knew they were at risk of punishment from King George III. When Rosa Parks refused to sit on the back of the bus during the Civil Rights Movement, she knew she was at risk of arrest from the Montgomery police. When more than 110 KHS students left class for the March for Our Lives walkout, they knew they were at risk of consequence too. Whether the consequence is minimal or extreme, individuals who participate in any form of protest will always be at risk. However, without sacrifice, protests would lack the attention needed to create change. Change doesn’t happen without risk and is certainly not achievable when there is no price to pay.
Whether it be one, 10 or 100 students protesting, the administration has every right to enforce discipline on its students. It is not the First Amendment nor the school district’s responsibility to exempt students from the consequences of their actions. If students truly want change, they should not fear, but rather embrace the consequences that come their way.