ATLANTA - Today, the ACLU of Georgia is releasing an open letter to administrators asking them to use the student walkout as a teaching moment and to lead their students in civic participation in our state.
Allow students to attend demonstrations. School absentee policies in Georgia allow for occasional absences and excused absences for religious education, doctors' appointments and even educational family events. Attending a demonstration for part of a school day should be treated equally. Absence policies should not be used to punish students who are engaged in the educational experience of participatory democracy -- especially when the engagement is all about the need to ensure that they can pursue their education in a safe environment.
Give clear guidance on expectations. Ensure that students know what is expected of them and what they can do to voice their opinion. Students should be allowed to peacefully demonstrate, distribute literature and wear any insignia of their protest, such as shirts. Schools may regulate this speech to prevent disruption of education, but keep in mind that this sort of discussion is education and the students' ability to express their political viewpoints must be respected.
- Foster healthy debate. In today's world, too often we are insulated from opposing viewpoints. This is a great opportunity to foster debate in an accepting environment. I urge you to use this opportunity as a teachable moment. You may want to consider setting aside time for assemblies or other events to consider the urgent issues of school safety that students across the country are now focused on. Teach your students what it means to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights and to argue persuasively, which requires truly understanding opposing views and remaining respectful. And, of course, equally respect students who do not want to join demonstrations or who wish to oppose the most popular views.