Freedom of Speech is Not a Student Right in Hanover County Schools

Ugh. This school board.

Remember last month when a man came to my child’s high school to protest, holding vulgar signs, and he was allowed to do so based on a “technicality,” and that kids who walked out of class later in the month to protest proposed transgeneder rights policies were suspended for several days? Yeah. First of all, the punishment for protesting should have only been the same punishment for skipping class: an unexcused absence. That is per the ACLU’s interpretation of the law. But instead, the school system chose to overreact to prove a point. Now, that overbearing reaction is likely going to be made policy. Not only that, but the language is so vague, that anything a student says or wears could be deemed “disruptive” depending on the administrator. 

Here is the language:

Note that there are also new proposed policies with regard to self-defense that is equally vague.

Here is my letter to the school board:

Dear School Board:

On your agenda tomorrow is a proposed revision in the Code of Conduct for students focused on student protests. 

In it, you state that children will not be allowed to demonstrate under any circumstance, to include engaging in protests, and will be subject to disciplinary action, including suspension. 

I’m writing as a parent of students who are either currently enrolled in or have recently graduated from this school system. And as a parent, I’m deeply concerned by this proposal. 

The ACLU outlines student’s rights to protest on their website. They subscribe to the notion that students can be punished for missing class, but punishment should not be greater if the reason is for participating in a peaceful protest. Nor should students be punished, for example, for wearing items which support their gay or transgender classmates. If you let students wear “Let’s Go Brandon” and “F*ck Biden” merchandise, as my child has reported, she can wear all the versions of rainbows she desires. Consider this email my permission slip for my child to support her friends. 

Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation which allows students excused absences for participating in protests as their right to participate in the democratic process. Your proposal is not congruent with the law of the state. It fails to recognize children as full humans with rights and privileges to freedom of speech. (After all, isn’t this what the Supreme Court is about to do? Recognize children from the moment of fertilization as full humans? That’s a whole other issue, but this supports this point.) 

What a tremendous opportunity for social studies teachers to educate their students on engaging with a democratic government: by talking about their rights to participate in avenues of peaceful civil discourse. There are certainly ways to work with students to allow them to have their voices heard.

By squelching their voices, you’re missing the point of education entirely. 

I’m truly heartbroken for young people right now and the world that the adults in charge are creating for them. It’s draconian. And it’s scary. 

Shame on you for even proposing this. 

I did receive a response from the chair of the school board. She thanked me for my concern and tried to reassure me that this new policy is simply a “proposal.” Sigh. Nothing was decided in the school board meeting this week. 

Other than that, just like every other letter I’ve written to the school board and which have been cc’d to the Board of Supervisors, I’ve heard crickets. 

My voice, it seems, does not matter. 

Does this mean I’m going to stop sending emails? Stop calling my legislators? Stop showing up to vote? Stop protesting? No, it does not. I will continue to be as noisy as I can. 

__________

How do you get involved in the democratic process? We really must engage right now, even at the local level, or we won’t have a democracy in which to participate very soon. 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, Switch4Good, and Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon 2022.

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