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Letter Writer issues concerns about school walk out Policy.

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The East Penn School Board voted down a proposal to ‘limit student activism’ on April 23rd. This policy was proposed by Board Director Carol Allen. Ms. Allen shares concerns by parents and taxpayers and that’s that ‘district employees shall not engage in political activities during assigned work hours on property under jurisdiction of the board.’ (PSBA policy 321)

  EP School Director, Carol Allen

What was lost on those against such a policy, is the purpose of the proposed policy is NOT to require students to ask permission or an attempt to stifle the student’s freedom of speech.  The purpose is to ensure the procedures governing such actions are ‘viewpoint neutral’ and enforced in a consistent manner allowing for all voices to be heard.  The proposed policy is to provide a safe positive learning experience for students while voicing their opinions and practicing free speech on current events.

 

The lack of such a policy creates the very same issue to which they were against the policy. It allows decision makers to decide which topics are restricted. In essence, the lack of a policy restricts the students with opposing viewpoints from having their own organized protest/walkout. Do you think a walkout in support of the 2nd Amendment would garner the same privileges?

 

Under the First Amendment case law, students are entitled to express political or social views in school, so long as their speech is not disruptive.

How is a walkout not disruptive? These walkouts disrupt instructional time for more than just the students that are participating.

 

The state requires a certain number of instructional days. So far in 2018, school districts have had instructional time disrupted by the March 14 walkout, the April 20th walkout, and the April 27th day of silence, where teachers, staff, and students refrain from speaking the entire day. How does one teach when you won’t speak? Soon we will have to add instructional days to the end of the year just like we do for snow days.

 

The Board is permitted to restrict the time, place, and manner of such speech for the purpose of order and safety.  The Board has the right to limit the scope of the event, limit the time to after school, and provide guidelines. Taxpayers don’t want to pay district staff to protest.

 

A policy would ensure that the staff and instructors are not encouraging/discouraging, preventing/forcing any student to participate.  A policy would allow for the staff/instructors to meet with student leaders to understand and assist with their plans, offer additional/alternative ways to express their views.  The collaboration should take place in advance of the event in order to ensure safety and minimize disruption to school operations.   The policy should notify parents the event is taking place.  Parents should always be notified about what their child is learning.  We are not just talking about high school students.  These walkouts are happening in middle school too.

 

A policy would ensure NO student is disciplined based on their specific viewpoints or the content of their expression.  It would restrict staff/instructors from speaking in an individual capacity and/or pressuring the student.  While political or controversial topics may be appropriate subjects for class, the discussion must be objective and balanced.

 

The lack of a policy leaves districts legally unprotected.  Even the NEA and ACLU recommend such a policy so educators can legally support student demands.  I would think the Board would want to work with the school administrators in assisting students in working out the logistics for their event in the name of safety, provide positive learning experiences, and with minimal disruption in instructional time.

 

With a lack of a policy, when is enough, enough? If you are on Twitter, there are several organizations stating “this is just the beginning.” I applaud Director Carol Allen in her attempts to be proactive rather than reactive. We need more School Board members like Carol Allen.

Raeann Hofkin

Upper Perkiomen School Board Member.

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