College & Workforce Readiness

Colleges to Students: Walkouts to Protest Shootings Won’t Jeopardize Admission

By Catherine Gewertz — February 26, 2018 4 min read
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Some high schools have threatened students with suspension if they miss school to protest gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school shootings. But one by one, many colleges and universities are stepping up to reassure admitted students that those suspensions won’t affect their offers of admission.

Thousands participated in demonstrations on gun violence last week, and a national march on Washington is scheduled for March 24. Nationwide school walkouts are set for March 14 and April 20, inspired by the shootings that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. With those demonstrations looming, some school districts issued notices telling students that they could be suspended for missing school if they participate.

The Needville Independent School District near Houston threatened students last week with in-school suspensions.

“Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, 50, or 500 students involved,” Superintendent Curtis Rhodes wrote in a letter to parents. “All will be suspended for three days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline.”

The Waukesha school district in Wisconsin threatened students with disciplinary action if they leave school to participate in protests, but then rethought the issue, saying the next day that students could participate if their absences were excused with notes from their parents. Districts in New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Nevada issued similar threats.

Many colleges specify that students’ offers of admission can be jeopardized by suspensions or other disciplinary black marks. Many students worried that their activism could cost them their places in next fall’s freshman class. Their nervous messages began arriving at colleges, and in the past week, institutions began posting their policies online.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents college admissions officers, stepped into the fray to urge colleges to make their positions on the issue clear and public. It created an online collection of those policies, so they could be easily found in one place.

One of the most lyrical came from Dartmouth, which said in a tweet: “Speak your truth.”

Yale University tweeted:

This statement came from MIT:

“If any admitted students or applicants are disciplined by their high school for practicing responsible citizenship by engaging in peaceful, meaningful protest related to this (or any other) issue, we will still require them to report it to us. However, because we do not view such conduct on its face as inappropriate or inconsistent with their prior conduct, or anything we wouldn’t applaud amongst our own students, it will not negatively impact their admissions outcome.”

The George Washington University weighed in with a statement to admitted students, saying, "[W]e support your Constitutional right to advocate for what is just. In our view, participation in peaceful protests is a legitimate way to exercise this right. If you are disciplined or suspended by your school district as a consequence of peacefully and lawfully exercising this right, such measures will have no effect upon your admissions decision here at GW.”

The University of California-Los Angeles encouraged students to participate in peaceful protests, and reassured them that their offers of admission would be unaffected. “Say your piece, speak your mind, and demand better of us all,” Gary Clark, Jr., UCLA’s director of undergraduate admission, wrote in a blog post.

Goucher College, a small liberal arts institution in Maryland, stated its policy on Twitter:

And this came in from Guilford College, a liberal arts institution in North Carolina:

Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., took to Facebook to get its message to students:

The American Civil Liberties Union posted on its blog that schools have the right to discipline students for unexcused absences, but cannot make punishments more severe because they happen to disagree with the reason students are protesting.

The Education Week Library contributed to this report.

See also: EdWeek’s complete coverage of the Parkland shootings

Photo: Hundreds of students from Deerfield Beach High School in Coconut Creek, Fla., make their way to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 23 to show support for victims of the recent shooting. --Carline Jean/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.