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Hanover County students could be penalized for demonstrations during school

Hanover County School Board.png
Posted at 11:30 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 06:29:06-04

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- The Hanover County School board may soon put a punishment in place for students participating in school walkouts or demonstrations.

The district's discipline leader made a yearly presentation to the school board on proposed changes to student conduct on Tuesday night. These proposed changes come just months after a walkout that happened at one Hanover high school.

In March, there was a student walkout at Atlee High School. Students said they walked out to protest over the school board’s decision to not adopt a 2020 state law to allow transgender or non-binary students to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender in which they identify.

They also held it in protest of the board consulting with the Alliance Defending Freedom to review the county’s equity policy. The ADF has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Despite this, the ADF views itself as an organization that protects religious freedoms.

The proposed policy change would discipline students for any demonstrations, protests or walkouts that are within the school setting that distract from teaching. The policy states that includes physical, written or verbal demonstrations.

“Students can’t simply come and go whenever they please, which has never been the case,” said Dr. Brian Maltby, the Discipline Hearing Review officer.

Maltby explained to the board that the proposed conduct addition is a matter of safety, and that it is not unique to just the Hanover school division. He said Hanover’s current code already states students are not allowed to just walk out and leave instruction, and noted how this should be addressed the same regardless of why a student is leaving class.

Board members asked if it violated First Amendment rights and if it was a safety issue.

Maltby responded saying it was a major safety issue and it takes up a significant amount of resources to keep students safe in these situations whether on or off-campus. He and the district's legal counsel added they are comfortable with that language in the code not infringing on free speech.

Some public members also weighed in on the proposal. They said they are worried about how restrictive the proposed policy seems, and that expressing their view would result in suspension.

Another person stated concerns about how it felt like a continued campaign against transgender and non-binary students.

CBS 6 consulted with a First Amendment expert about Hanover’s proposed policy.

Chapman Rackaway, the Chair of Political Science at Radford University, said schools do have the liberty to restrict walkouts and possibly speech on shirts if it becomes distracting. However, they indicate it can be a very gray area.

“It’s kind of like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder on what disruptive is,” Rackaway said.

He said districts who implement a policy like this could give students disciplinary action if they feel it falls under the purview of distracting from education. He said, however, a student could take the district to court to see if the courts would override it, citing it violates the Tinker decision.

According to the United States Courts website, the Tinker v. Des Moines case was where the United State Supreme Court ruled that students don’t lose rights when they step into school, but a school can only intervene if it disrupts the education process.

Other Central Virginia districts weighed in on their current walkout policies.

Henrico County Public Schools said students don’t lose rights when they enter the school. The county supports students who stay on property and engage in social and civic learning experiences.

The Chesterfield County Public Schools said they ensure students are safe during student walkouts, and refer to the code of conduct if students leave campus and don’t return when prompted

The Hanover school board will not vote on the code of conduct until the June meeting.

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