Following the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February 2018, hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country planned a nationwide walkout for 17 minutes in an effort to urge lawmakers to institute gun reform measures. 

In preparation for the walkout, the Utica Academy for International Studies (UAIS) created a set of rules dictating what students could say during their political protest. The rules required the students to stick to “pre-identified chants” as they marched outside the school, and any posters they wished to carry during their walkout would need to be submitted to administrators for advance approval. Incredibly, the rules also provided that no “political messages” would be permitted. Several students who refused to be silenced by school administrators were suspended for peacefully participating in the walkout and holding up signs with political messages. 

In April 2018, the ACLU of Michigan wrote a letter to the school demanding that the suspensions be rescinded because UAIS’s rules against political speech during a demonstration were a blatant violation of the students’ clearly established constitutional rights to express their opinions on the critically important issue of gun control. UAIS responded promptly stating that it had removed the suspensions from the students’ permanent records, issued a public statement confirming its commitment to free speech rights of all its students, and promised to respect students’ First Amendment rights in the future. 

(ACLU Attorneys Michael J. Steinberg and Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio.)

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