#NoCopsNoGuns: Student Walkout Toolkit
On Wednesday, March 14 and April 20, 2018, organizations across the country who have been working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline will participate in a nation-wide school walkout. These organizations have organized students, parents, educators and community members to stand in solidarity with the Parkland, FL community of students impacted by the February school shooting, while amplifying the voices of students of color who are most vulnerable to the policies put forth by decision makers at the national, state and local level that increase police presence and guns on Florida school campuses.
The purpose of this toolkit is to provide students, parents, educators and organizers from around the U.S. with critical information to support their actions on March 14, April 20 and beyond. The major sections of this toolkit include:
- Key messages and talking points
- City specific “know your rights” information about participating in student walk-outs and protests
- List of partner organizations
- Social media tips and strategies
On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida claiming the lives of 17 students and school staff. Since that tragic day, the nation has heard reactions and responses from the families of the victims and concerned students across the country, demanding solutions that honor those whose lives were lost.
In the weeks following the shooting, communities called on their legislators and school administrators to effectively address gun violence. In addition to conversations about gun violence, the Parkland shooting sparked dialogue about mental health, safety, police in schools, and the alarming move to arm school faculty.
To the detriment of Black and Brown students, the national conversation fails to acknowledge that an increase in police and guns in our schools harshly impacts young people of color.
Advancement Project is standing together with our partners to amplify the voices of students and communities of color who want an end to gun violence without an increase in police in our neighborhoods and schools.
- All students deserve to attend schools where they feel safe, supported and respected. Students in Parkland and across the country have summarily declared that mental health professionals, counselors and caring adults in school are the pathway to preventing mass violence, not teachers with deadly weapons or more school police.
- Creating police states within schools and communities will not solve mass violence. Moves to militarize police in schools by equipping them with higher grade assault weapons and surveillance technology has only proved to make students feel less safe in school.
- Investing in school police is a misguided strategy that does not improve campus safety. Research confirms that school police fail to deter mass violence, make schools no safer and lead to an increase of school-based arrests for minor misbehaviors. More police in schools creates the appearance of safety rather than actually creating truly safe schools or addressing the underlying root causes of school violence. School based police officers have not prevented mass shootings in Newtown, CT or Parkland, FL.
- Police presence disproportionately harms youth of color who are suspended, expelled, arrested and referred to law enforcement than their white peers for the exact same behaviors. Police officers are not usually trained in youth and adolescent development, or in how to effectively interact with students and school personnel. We should not expect police to screen students for mental health issues or to act as counselors and mentors.
- Investments in policing and armed teachers diverts critical education funding away from student supports like school psychologists, nurses and educators to create hostile learning environments that mirror prisons and calcify the school-to-prison pipeline.
- The role of school police officers should not be confused with that of a school guidance counselor, social worker, student mentor, or educator. School police are sworn law enforcement officers who are almost exclusively trained and tasked with enforcing the criminal code. They do not complete extensive coursework in youth development, receive substantive training on age-appropriate behaviors for students in each age category, nor teach students within the school setting as their primary function. The approach of school police to students is often neither trauma-centered, nor responsive to the negative experience of student populations within schools.
An improvement in mental health resources in U.S. cities cannot happen without an intentional and accountable effort to divest funding and shift budgeting from School Police officers to other necessary programs that actually promote a nurturing school environment. The expansion of police presence and security personnel/equipment in schools must end, as it only promotes a culture of fear rather than reinforcing the creativity and voice of students.
Know Your Rights
This information is not intended to be legal advice. If you have an individual question or issue please consult with an attorney.
What are my free speech rights at school?
The First Amendment generally protects your right to protest (peacefully assemble). Even when you’re on school grounds, you still have this right as long as you don’t significantly disrupt the functioning of the school.
Can I get in trouble for participating in a school walkout?
Yes, you can because schools generally have the right to make rules about student attendance and put limitations on absences. Depending on what the rules are in your school, the school might be able to impose consequences for missing class or school. This can be anything from just getting an unexcused absence on your record, to a conference, to suspension. In many states, police or truancy officers can also arrest or ticket a student who is skipping school.
Some schools have exceptions to this rule for peaceful student protests. In light of the student walkouts planned after the tragedy in Parkland, many superintendents or principals are announcing that students can participate in the walkouts without consequence.
The school may also try to discipline you for disrupting schools or causing a disturbance, which could include a suspension or even an arrest in some states. The First Amendment protects your right to speech in school but only as long as you don’t disrupt the orderly function of a school.
The school cannot punish you more harshly then someone who skipped school for a different, non-political reason. That would be unfair and would violate your rights.
What are my options if I am disciplined for participating?
If you are disciplined for participating in a walkout, you should read your school’s rules closely to find out what your rights are. You may be able to request some form of a restorative practice, conference, or other meeting with the school officials and talk about the importance of student activism during the meeting. You may want to discuss with your school your reasons for participating, and express that participating in such an action is essential to the educational process.
Where can I find out the rules for my school?
You should look at your student code of conduct to find out what the consequences are for missing school. You may also want to see if anyone from your school district has made a public statement about their response to student actions after Parkland. Check with your family to and see if any special announcements have been made in school newsletters, too.
For more information about free speech rights in public schools, you can check out:
ACLU's Know Your Rights: Students' Free Speech Rights in Public Schools
The Women’s March Youth Empower #Enough! National School Walkout Toolkit
School-district Specific Information
This information contains a summary of key parts of individual schools’ codes of conduct that may apply if you walk out of school or participate in a protest. If your school district is not listed, you may want to look up your student code of conduct to find out what it says about skipping class, excused or unexcused absences, and truancy. You may also want to look at any rules around being disruptive or insubordinate in school because sometimes schools will attempt to discipline students participating in protests for these offenses.
Broward County Schools’ Code of Conduct is available here.
Missing school for a walkout or protest may count as an excused absence. The Broward County Schools’ Code of Conduct defines an excused absence as one due to a special event, which can be an important public function. A parent or guardian can write a letter to excuse your absence either two days before or two days after the day that you’re out of class.