The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday urged school leaders to embrace nationwide anti-gun protests and not discipline students who participate in them.
Students across the country are planning to walk out of class for 17 minutes on Wednesday to protest for gun reform and honor the 17 people killed inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the Feb. 14 massacre.
The ACLU encouraged school leaders to resist the impulse to “discipline and control young people” because punishing them doesn’t solve the problem or keep them safe.
“Rather than seeking to silence students’ political engagement and quashing their desire for conversation, schools can approach this moment as an opportunity for learning about civic action,” an ACLU statement on Monday read.
Many state ACLU affiliates are urging superintendents to empower student participation so their political viewpoints are appreciated, according to ACLU Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.
"By not teaching them to engage in a healthy debate, you also risk furthering the divide in this nation that so painfully obstructs collaboration," Simon said.
Simon told school officials to seize the “unique educational moment.”
But other ACLU groups have warned administrators that they will be watching how they handle the protests to monitor for civil rights violations, the Dayton Daily News reported on Tuesday.
“As students plan walkouts to press for changes in social policy, please bear firmly in mind: The Constitution forbids disciplining students more harshly for politically motivated conduct,” ACLU of Ohio Executive Director J. Bennett Guess wrote.
“The ACLU of Ohio may intervene if a student who leaves school as an act of political protest faces more severe punishment because of their political beliefs.”
In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that neither "students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
But the ruling does recognize that peaceful protests should not disrupt the educational process, the Daily News reported.
School officials across the country are debating whether student walkouts disrupt class enough to warrant punishment.
Some high schools have already warned students that they can be receive detention or be suspended if they protest, including one Texas school district.
The ACLU has issued guidelines for students and parents to be prepared for punishments before Wednesday’s protests.
However, nearly 182 colleges and universities pledged in February not to hold these punishments against high school students hoping to apply.
That number has now reached over 300, according to neveragaincolleges.com.