Letter: Walkout decision creates huge liability, sets ugly precedent

To the Editor:

The Board of Education (BOE) and school administration seem to be unaware that they have opened Pandora’s box. The First Amendment of the Constitution is quite clear: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” The 14th Amendment extends that unambiguous prohibition to state and local government — including the Board of Education and school administration.

The Supreme Court has interpreted the constitutional requirement to allow a few very limited exceptions, one being general prohibition of disruptive behaviors in public schools. Such an exception must, as a matter of unambiguous precedent and law, be totally neutral with respect to the content of the speech. Neutrality is especially critical when the content of the speech is political. All demonstrations during school hours on school property can be prohibited and punished. But if the prohibition is conditioned on the content of the speech, then it is a violation of the freedom of speech.

By asking the BOE to permit her to support a demonstration advocating a specific political view, Principal Gross demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of free speech and the constitutional requirements supporting it. By granting her request, the BOE is complicit in that failure and has created a huge liability, one that is at least as great as the perfectly legitimate safety liability that was reportedly discussed.

The BOE should immediately rescind its instructions to assure that the walkout is conducted safely on school grounds and emphasize that all appropriate disciplinary actions will be applied to anyone who participates in that or any other demonstration. If they do not, they will have no basis for refusing similar support for any other cause whatsoever — promoting concealed carry, reducing taxes, favoring white supremacy, or objecting to the firing of a popular teacher.

John Early

Fieldcrest Drive, March 30