Student Rights During Protests

March 1, 2018



Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of training and working with attorneys to serve as legal observers at marches and protests. Recently, as part of the pro bono practice, Ballard Spahr volunteers in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., were trained for the massive Women’s March on January 21, 2017,  protecting their right to peaceably assemble.


High School students across the country are leading the way in demanding action on gun control. What do they need to know as they plan collective action?


  • Students don’t lose their first amendment rights at the school house gate. They can express opinions through speech, clothing, or actions. 

  • Schools do have the right to make rules that prevent disruption or enforce attendance, so students can be disciplined for walking out of school or destroying property. 

  • School discipline policies must be enforced uniformly - a student’s absence for a protest should not be treated differently than other unexcused absences. 


So what can students do? First, try working with the school. Most administrators and teachers agree with students about the need for stronger gun laws. Many are helping to organize school demonstrations and discussions on March 14 or coordinate travel to DC on March 24. Also, consider using the school forum to direct action at legislators who have the power to change the laws, whether through a voter registration drive, a letter writing campaign, a candidate forum, or a field trip to talk to elected officials. 


These students have continued to inspire me.


Keep up the good work!

- Mary Gay


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