The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said a five-day suspension given to a Bradwell Institute student who participated in a March 2 walkout is unconstitutional.
In a March 7 letter sent to Bradwell Principal Toriano Gilbert and Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry, the ACLU said it is representing BI sophomore Amari Ewing and her mother Keysha Ewing.
The ACLU also issued a press release March 7, demanding Gilbert immediately cancel Ewing’s suspension and expunge the disciplinary action from her school records. Ewing was among roughly a dozen students who walked out of the BI campus during a student-led protest to raise awareness of gun violence.
According to the letter from the ACLU, the walk-out took place during the break between classes. The students walked out of school and across the street to protest for 17 minutes—one minute for every person killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The ACLU called the five day suspension, “wildly disproportionate.”
“According to Keysha Ewing, Amari’s mother, when she asked Principal Gilbert what the typical punishment was for an unexcused absence, she was
told that an unexcused absence results in only one day of in-school suspension,” ACLU–Georgia Legal Director Sean Young wrote in the letter. “If this is true, then punishing Amari five times more severely for being absent for only 17 minutes is blatantly unconstitutional.”
Gilbert had said the administration became aware of the possibility of a protest prior to the March 2 incident.
In response, notifications were sent to the students, staff and parents, saying, “The Liberty County School District places a great deal of importance on the safety of its students and staff. There must be an engagement of students, staff, parents and community members in the development of a trusting and supporting relationship when dealing with school safety.”
The notification said the district acknowledges individuals’ rights to demonstrate, but that it cannot allow those demonstrations to disrupt classes.
In the letter Young said, “While you (Gilbert) did discourage students from walking out of class and refused to allow the school to “participate in any kind of walk out”—which is your right—nowhere in the e-mail did you state that any students who walked out of class for any reason would be punished with five days suspension. Second, perhaps more disturbingly, the stated reason for punishing Amari was “insubordination,” after she refused to listen to how Bradwell Institute staff wanted her to engage in her protest. But refusing to speak exactly in the way that government authorities want you to speak is not called “insubordination,” it is called free expression, and it is protected by the First Amendment.”
Perry said the district did reduce the suspensions of all the students who protested to four days. He said, however, the five-day suspension is in accordance to current school code.
“The Liberty County School district places a great deal of importance on the safety of its students and staff and is sympathetic and understanding to the concerns about the Parkland Florida incident,” Perry wrote. “The code of conduct clearly outlines consequences for classroom and or school disturbances. In reference to the student who protested the Parkland Florida incident; the student was dealt with in accordance with the Liberty County System Code of Conduct.”
Ewing’s mother was not the only guardian upset by the disciplinary action taken by the school.
Maria Riva, who said her granddaughter participated in the peaceful walk-out, was upset by the five day suspension as well. She said the suspension could hurt her granddaughter’s ROTC record.
Like the ACLU, Riva said the kids have constitutional rights of freedoms of speech and expression, protected under the First Amendment.
“They are speaking out to protect the other kids,” Riva had said adding she was proud of her granddaughter. She said students should have the right to stand up for what they believe in and plans to fight for her granddaughter.