A high school threatened to ban students from prom for participating in gun control walkouts

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle

A New Jersey high school has retracted a threat banning students from prom, for participating in organized walk-outs in response to the Florida school shooting.

Principal Dennis Perry of Cherry Hill High School East explained the changeabout in a February 27th letter to the school, even inviting students to participate in an organized “walk” on March 14th, the same day as the national school walkout planned by The Women’s March’s Youth EMPOWER group.

A student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and teachers were killed in a February 14th shooting, protests in support of gun laws. (Photo: Getty Images)
A student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and teachers were killed in a February 14th shooting, protests in support of gun laws. (Photo: Getty Images)
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Perry also announced a weekly meeting between students and teachers to discuss school safety and a letter campaign to victims of the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, among other initiatives.

“I am formally retracting the statement that I made on Monday, February 26, regarding withholding participation in the senior trip, the senior prom, or graduation for participating in the “disruption” planned for that morning,” wrote Perry.

One day prior, Perry made the controversial announcement in the midst of a student protest in support of teacher Timothy Locke, who was reportedly placed on administrative leave after expressing concern about Cherry Hill’s lack of armed officers and comparing the school to Columbine High School, where in 1999, two students killed 13 people in a mass shooting.

A student also told Philly.com that Locke said, “The chances of East being shot up were high.” And Locke himself told the website that his bag was searched and he was ordered to undergo a physical and a psychiatric evaluation.

In an audio obtained by PhillyVoice, Perry said, “I am assuming that the purpose of the planned disruption was out of frustration because it was felt as though you were not being heard. Well, I do want you to have that opportunity to be heard, and I do want to hear you.”

He added, “Please know that those of you who opt into some sort of civil disobedience will be immediately suspended and you will lose your senior trip and prom if you are in 12th grade.” Perry did not answer Yahoo Lifestyle’s multiple requests for comment.

In many cases, it’s unconstitutional to punish student protesters. (Photo: Getty Images)
In many cases, it’s unconstitutional to punish student protesters. (Photo: Getty Images)

According to Edward Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), threatening to punish student activists is, in many cases, unconstitutional. “Schools cannot punish kids for skipping class to protest any more harshly than they would for skipping for another reason,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It would be unconstitutional to focus on the reasons for missing class.”

Threatening to ban protesters from prom violates two rights, says Barocas: The right to due process, which in this case, requires fair and transparent discipline procedures for an offense — not eleventh-hour bans — and the right to free speech.

Aside from the March 14 walkout, a “March for Our Lives” walk in Washington, D.C. is scheduled for March 24th, and a National School Walkout, on April 20th on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

Cherry Hill is one of several schools to threaten protesting students with discipline. According to local news station KHOU, a district in Spring, Texas issued a statement that students who participate in walk-outs face in-school suspension, even while investigating a February 23rd threat to one its own high schools.

The Needville Independent School District, also in Texas, stated in a now-deleted Facebook post, “Should students choose to [walk out], they will be suspended from school for three days and face all the consequences that come along with an out-of-school suspension…We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty or five hundred students involved.”

The good news is, student activism doesn’t seem to be a deal breaker for many prospective colleges. Hannah Mendlowitz, senior assistant director of admissions at Yale penned a February 23rd post which read, “Does Yale look unfavorably upon discipline resulting from peaceful demonstrations? The answer is simple: Of course not…I, for one, will be cheering these students on from New Haven.”

The MIT admissions department said in a blog post, “We have already informed those who asked that, in this case, a disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact their admissions decision, because we would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity on its face.”

The University of Massachusetts – Amherst assured protesting students “We won’t hold it against you.”

And the dean of admissions at Smith College tweeted, “We’ve got you on this side.”

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