ACLU: NJ students have the right to peaceful protest
TRENTON — The New Jersey chapter of the ACLU warned administrators about the rights of students who want to participate in walkouts to commemorate the one month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
The group that organized the Women's March in Washington after President Donald Trump's inaugural is organizing students to lead walkouts at their individual schools on March 14 at 10 a.m. During the #Enough! National School Walkout To End Gun Violence event, students plan to leave class for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the mass shooting
The ACLU’s New Jersey chapter said it sent a letter to all school administrators about the rights of students to express a political opinion and wearing T-shirts, arm bands and other clothing. The group also warned about punishing students more harshly for politically motivated conduct than for similar, non-political behavior and warned it was prepared to intervene.
The group pointed out that "students enjoy the same rights to protest as others. During school hours, students have protection for political speech under our state and federal constitutions." It suggested that administrators use walkouts as an opportunity for students to learn first hand about civic engagement.
"The ACLU of New Jersey asks you to support student efforts to engage in the issues of the day and encourage a spirit of civic participation in the various forms it may take," the group wrote in the letter.
Students at Middletown North and Southern Regional High School who walked out to commemorate the shooting's one week anniversary did not face discipline.
Most school districts contacted by New Jersey 101.5 said they were still working out their plans for the March 14 walkout. Princeton schools superintendent Steve Cochrane, however, announced plans on Friday to go ahead with walkout at both Princeton High School and John Witherspoon Middle School.
The walkout will be followed by an hour of "service, advocacy, and reflection, including voter registration, mental health awareness, class discussions and other student-generated activities," according to Cochrane.
Middle school students will take a 17 minute walk culminating in the formation of a heart in a field next to the school.
"Our plan is to work with students to find ways we can appropriately support them as they peaceably assemble and express themselves," Jackson schools spokeswoman Allison Erwin said. "Obviously, we want any demonstration to be an orderly and safe occurrence. We believe there are ways we can support our students in expressing themselves and have a productive school day as well."
East Brunswick schools Superintendent Victor Valseki said, "Right now, our secondary principals are meeting with student leaders on how they can turn their voices into action, in a meaningful and safe manner."
The students at Parkland have become prominent in the national discussion on gun violence and gun rights by speaking at rallies and by confronting state and national lawmakers and lobbyists.
Colleges around New Jersey, including Rutgers, TCNJ, Stockton and Rider, have assured freshmen applicants that they will not consider any disciplinary action taken against them as a result of a walkout. Princeton University said it will require students to explain their action.