There is going to be a National School Walkout on March 14 and several other days in the United States.

Can schools legally allowed to punish or discipline to an extent different from what is defined by their policies, just because it is a protest/walkout or that it agrees with their political opinions?

In this situation, my school is a public government school.

  • 2
    A more pointed way to put this is, may government schools selectively enforce strict restrictions on conduct on the basis of viewpoint? – user6726 Mar 7 '18 at 5:52
  • Public school (government) in this situation. – Bill Richard Mar 7 '18 at 21:41

Private schools can mostly do as they wish. Government schools have to follow constitutional provisions that pertain to government action. The most basic relevant principle is the Equal Protection Clause, which forbids a state from denying a person the equal protection of its laws. The government cannot limit First Amendment rights to one group, because they espouse a viewpoint that isn't in line with the ruling party's beliefs. The law is to be enforced in a viewpoint-neutral fashion, not selectively (e.g. Good News Club v. Milford High, Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense, Dwares v. New York).

This does not mean that a policy, once stated, must always be enforced. School districts typically have policies defining unexcused absences and penalizing students for having too many of them. These policies are usually indirectly or directly compelled by state law, such as RCW 28A.225.010. This law even-handedly allows all religious excuses, and no political ones. Again, it is not required that unexcused absences for political reasons always be punished. But the decision to punish cannot be based on the particular viewpoint being expressed. If a district generally does rigorously punish political absences for right-leaning causes, it cannot rigorously ignore political absences for left-leaning causes.

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  • I think this answer is legally correct, but my experience is that the behavior is nevertheless quite common. My children's school [perhaps tacitly] encourages kids to participate in certain political protests that the administration supports. It probably depends a lot on the leanings of the community. – Ask About Monica Mar 7 '18 at 18:13
  • Public school (government) in this situation. – Bill Richard Mar 7 '18 at 21:43
  • Also, I would appreciate if you answered the question more fully. Yes - I understand that schools sometimes have wavy policies for absences, however, besides absences and just considering general policies, can schools punish less for something if no exception is written in the policy itself. Thank you in advance for the detailed reply. – Bill Richard Mar 7 '18 at 21:52
  • Generally speaking, public schools have broad discretion over what rules to enforce and not enforce. Selective enforcement arguments under the 14th Amendment almost never prevail, and require much more specific and comprehensive circumstances than those identified in this post. Also, there is usually only standing to sue if you are punished when others are not, not when someone else is not punished. – ohwilleke May 7 '18 at 1:33

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