Supporting Student Protesters Opens A Big Can of Worms for Public Schools

Pro-life students across the country have organized a student walk-out to protest abortion. The event was to be held today, April 11. The plan was for students to walk out and observe seventeen minutes of silence, the amount of time, they say, it takes for Planned Parenthood to perform ten abortions. A secondary purpose of the protest was to reveal the double standard of school districts. School districts and administrators were supportive of the student walk-out last month protesting supposed government inaction in the face of school shootings, and demanding stricter gun control laws. Those same school districts have been either silent or unsupportive of the students organizing the pro-life protest.

I’ve not been able to find any links to news articles covering the event to ascertain how successful it was, though Students for Life of America reported earlier that over 350 students and student organizations had communicated their intention to participate. Needless to say, the mainstream media, who was all over the gun control walk-out, have been silent on the pro-life walk-out.

This post, though, is not really about the protests. Readers of this blog will know that I am strongly pro-life on abortion and other life issues, such as euthanasia, capital punishments, etc … But, while I certainly support the pro-life students organizing the walk-out, and while I think the efforts of those organizing the gun control walk-out were misguided, there is a larger issue than those two causes.

The larger issue is: Should our public schools be turned into stages for political and social causes?

Students have long been active in political and social causes, and the courts have supported the rights of students to engage in expressions of support for their causes on school grounds and during school hours.

But, students being free to wear bands on their sleeves or T-shirts expressing support for a particular political or social cause without interference from school administrators is quite different from school officials actually taking a stand in support of particular causes and accommodating students engaging in political activity, effectively allowing their schools to become stages in support of political or social causes. Schools risk being tempted away from their primary mission of educating their students, and of doing so in an objective, non-partisan, unbiased way. If a student group wants to organize a walk-out or other type of protest during school hours and on school grounds, and the administrators support them, on what grounds could they deny such support to other students who want to organize a different protest for a different cause? How many school hours, or days even, are going to be taken away from class time to allow students to stage these events? Class time is already cut too often for school activities that have nothing to do with politics (and, frankly, little to do with education). How much more time will be taken away from the classroom for these protests? Schools are there, after all, to educate their students. Certainly, political activity and social concerns are part of a student’s well-rounded education. But, it’s not hard to see this practice getting out of hand.

A second risk is that school districts, if they don’t want their educational mission entirely surrendered to political activity, will have to pick and choose between protests and actions. This will put them at risk of being accused of bias and of practicing a double standard. The fact is, it’s the rare school administrator who doesn’t have his or her political and social preferences. It would only be natural for them to be tempted to offer support and accommodations to a cause they prefer, while denying such to a cause they don’t favor. The Rocklin Unified School District, the home to the student organizing the pro-life walk-out, is being threatened with a lawsuit for providing flexible scheduling and use of school property to students participating in the gun control walk-out, while denying the same to students participating in the pro-life walk-out. Sure, they claim their reasons. But, those reasons are specious and the favoritism is transparent. How many already stretched resources will now have to be dedicated to defending school districts from such lawsuits?

I’m all for students expressing their political and social preferences in their dress and in their speech, including on school grounds and during school hours. But, I’m not in favor of public schools being turned into stages for political or social causes. The public schools are taxpayer supported institutions. Taxpayers come in all sorts of political and social brands. It would be impossible for schools to accommodate all of the political and social causes students might want to support or oppose. Being public institutions, they are forbidden by law to show favoritism or bias in their support or lack of support for particular causes. As well, extending time and resources to these protests takes away from class time and the primary mission of our public schools, which is to educate our students in those skills necessary to be successful in this world.

Bottom line: the schools have opened a massive can of worms here, and I don’t see much that is good or productive coming from it.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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