According to the ACLU, walkouts are considered civil disobedience because young people are required by law to attend school; however, they may not be punished more severely than other students due to their speech. They are telling the Harford County Public School District not to punish students who leave school grounds on Wednesday any harsher than they would for any other unexcused absence. At Franklin High School, where students had to sign up in advance, about 800 students or half the high school is expected to take part.
"Students don't lose their right to free speech when they walk in the door to their schools, and we will be monitoring to ensure that students' First Amendment rights are protected during tomorrow's walkouts", said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director.
The ACLU officials said it was understandable that students "may have strong reactions to the current issues related to school safety, and their efforts to understand, engage, and speak out about that should be encouraged, not deterred".
Ahead of Wednesday's 17-minute walkout by high school students nationwide, to call for stricter gun control laws and remember those killed in the massacre in Parkland, Florida last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is providing legal resources to the students and urging administrators against punishing participants.
ACLU-TN's letter further explains that the Constitution forbids disciplining students more harshly for politically-motivated conduct than for similar, non-political behavior. Cal. Educ. Code § 48900.5. This publication is available at https://www.myschoolmyrights.com/school-discipline/. Although the school cannot punish students for missing school to participate in political protests more harshly than it punishes students for missing school for any other objective, the school can punish students less harshly, or not at all. Schools may elect to interpret absentee policies liberally to allow students to participate in walkouts or to attend demonstrations, so long as all political protests are treated equally regardless of their content.
To facilitate students' ability to participate in political speech, schools can instruct students to seek permission from their teachers to make up class work and receive homework assignments in advance. The only exception is if the student is lewd, vulgar or disrupts school functions.