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ACLU sends letter to school districts on planned walkouts

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Students across the country are planning to walk out of class next week to demand Congress take action against gun violence in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said he’s sending a letter to every superintendent in the state, warning them they cannot punish students for political walkouts any more than being truant for any other reason.

“These are students who are taking their education, putting it into practice,” Brown said Thursday.

“Students cannot be punished more harshly simply for exercising their right to protest, and we want to make sure no school official crosses that line,” he added.

PDF:Read the ACLU’s letter in full »

Organizers believe many students will walk out on March 14 at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim killed in the Florida shooting.

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said it’s a “teachable moment” that allows teachers to engage with students.

“Let’s figure out a way to amplify the student voice but make sure everyone stays safe,” he said.

“How they express themselves – as long as it’s safe, as long as it’s consistent with the education obligations we have – that’s really a local decision,” Wagner added.

In a letter, Portsmouth High School said walkouts are prohibited because they threaten student safety. In Providence, Superintendent Chris Maher said they’re against any walkouts because it disrupts teaching and learning, saying they will contact parents if their child walks out.

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