As Montana school districts increasingly face the prospect of student protests/walkouts related to school safety school districts should be aware that, regardless of your views regarding such protests, each school district has some legal obligations related to district policy and Montana law that districts will have to confront and resolve.Montana law provides as follows:
20-5-201. Duties and sanctions. (1) A pupil:
(a) shall comply with the policies of the trustees and the rules of the school that the pupil attends;
. . . . .
(c) shall submit to the authority of the teachers, principal, and district superintendent of the district; and
(d) is subject to the control and authority of the teachers, principal, and district superintendent while the pupil is in school or on school premises, on the way to and from school, or during intermission or recess.
The section above not only places an obligation on each student (to comply with policy and to be subject to the authority of district staff while in school), it also places an obligation on the school district (teachers and administrators) to be responsible for each student's conduct and to ensure the safety of students while under the supervision and care of the district.A school district's ability to provide for the safety of students can be significantly compromised if a walkout or other protest extends outside of the campus. An example of the foreseeable potential for a flare up can be found in recent news regarding a walkout among students in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the news reported that "vehicles waving the confederate battle flag" could be seen following the students along the route of their walkout. Nothing came of this particular incident, but it certainly could have. The participation of staff in addition to students could raise additional labor/employee discipline and liability issues.It is recommend that, at a minimum, the school district be aware of its district policies related to unexcused absences by students and duties of instructional staff and have a district-level discussion and decision regarding what to do about any violations of policy that may take place during the course of a student protest. Additionally, to head off the foreseeable potential for harm to students that might occur during the course of an off-campus protest, school districts may want to attempt to provide options for students and staff to meaningfully discuss and call attention to these important issues within the school (a "teach-in" rather than a "walk-out"), so that students have an opportunity to express themselves in an environment that is more aligned with the district's obligation and ability to supervise and provide for the safety of students during the school day.
There are national walkout movements evolving from day to day, with one planned for March 14 and another planned for April 20. There are also walkouts that have already occurred in Montana's public schools. Reviewing resources and developing a plan for ensuring the safety and security of students and providing learning opportunities related to these events is a good first step for staying on top of the issues.