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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

PRESS RELEASE: Protests

Posted by Wayne Benningfield in General  |  Post a comment

PRESS RELEASE

 Tuesday, October 11, 2016, 11:30 a.m.

Wayne Benningfield, Superintendent

Todd County Schools

 At a recent school function, four students chose to kneel during our national anthem.  Parents and community members have expressed to me their distaste of these students’ actions. It has been brought to my attention, there are a few community members demanding these students be reprimanded and that the district take preventative measures to prohibit similar events in the future.

After speaking with other superintendents across the state, our district is not unique in this form of peaceful protest, which mimics actions taken by professional athletes.  However, while many of the community may disagree, a right to a peaceful non-disruptive protest is a fundamental freedom that students possess just as individuals outside the school walls have a right to freely express themselves.  

 Educators and our community should use this as a teaching moment for our students. At the same time, it is important that we not dishonor those who have sacrificed for the freedom to peacefully dissent.  Graciously respecting the students’ right to protest is a much more powerful tool than perpetrating a real wrong upon them by not following well-established legal principles. 

 It has long been held that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).  By adhering to the jurisprudence that followed Tinker and its progeny, we acknowledge the constitutional rights of students in public schools are not automatically equivalent to the actions of adults. The law is clear that these students were within their rights to express themselves in this manner.  The act of kneeling was a “passive expression of opinion.”  The students did not cause a disruption or spur disorder.

Answer to questions:

Since the press release to the Todd County Standard, a few community members have posted to my blog. The same freedoms protecting our students, protect those comments. I respect the observations expressed, both critical and supportive. The critical comments do not change the law or requirement to follow the law. Definitely, there is lack of understanding that such opinions expressed do not remove the penalties of violating the law. Those who advocate forcing students to stand during the National Anthem are free to advocate that change in Federal law through the proper channels. Until changes are made to the law occurs, we have no course other than to follow the law.

 


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