Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith issued a video statement Wednesday evening that says students who leave school as part of a protest could face disciplinary action.
The statement comes after three days of protests during which county high school students walked out of their schools to protest the election of Donald Trump as president.
On Wednesday, a couple of hundred students walked out of Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, following similar walkouts earlier in the week at several other county high schools. In the largest protest, several hundred students from Montgomery Blair, Northwood and Albert Einstein high schools walked miles Monday through Silver Spring in protest of Trump and his rhetoric about immigrants and other issues.
Dr. Smith has a message for the school community regarding student safety concerns during protests taking place. https://t.co/GuHQ6FcUt6
— MCPS (@MCPS) November 16, 2016
The local protests are part of student protests that have occurred across the country in recent days.
Although the local protests have been largely nonviolent, a Richard Montgomery student and Trump supporter was injured during a fight with student protesters outside the school Wednesday morning. Rockville police later said a Richard Montgomery student would be charged with second-degree assault.
“Our goal is to keep our students safe under adult supervision and engaged in the learning process,” Smith said in his message, which is posted on the school system website as well as Twitter. “It is for this reason I am asking and expecting all students to remain in school and participate in the daily educational program as intended.
“If students do not comply with these expectations,” Smith continued, “they may be subjected to the regular disciplinary actions that align with whatever infraction is involved.”
County students’ right to protest is included in MCPS’s “Student Rights and Responsibilities.” But the school system says protesting comes with responsibilities: “Students have a responsibility to consult with the school principal to determine if the activity will be allowed during the school day, outside the school day, or during lunch, and the type of supervision required.”
The regulations also say students need to work cooperatively with staff to ensure the protest is orderly, and the students must make up missed work.
“While MCPS supports everyone’s right to assemble and to respectfully express themselves, these demonstrations have unfortunately generated valid concerns regarding the security of our students outside of our schools,” Smith said in his message. “When students are threatened or injured as part of a protest, it raises serious safety issues that require us to rethink the situation.”
In an email sent Wednesday night to Bethesda Beat, Richard Montgomery student Mekala Rajagopal noted that most students who participated in the protest marched peacefully through Rockville Town Center, “holding signs and chanting messages like ‘love trumps hate’, ‘stronger together,’ and ‘no hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here.’
“As a student body, we strongly condemn violence in any form towards students or other members of the community. Our goal is to advocate for unity, love, peace, and acceptance,” wrote Rajagopal, who said she represented students who participated in the protest. “We do not believe this incident represents any of our reasons for coming out today, and believe strongly in nonviolent resolution of disagreements. “
She said protesters were “very glad” the injured student was “largely unharmed.”
State Sen. Jamie Raskin, a constitutional scholar, said students can express their views peacefully and nondisruptively so long as they’re not interrupting the education process.
“People have the right to express themselves, and these young people have a lot to express,” said Raskin, who was elected Nov. 8 to represent the 8th District in Congress.
Sixteen years ago, Raskin wrote We the Students, a review of U.S. Supreme Court cases that involve students. A 1969 case, Tinker vs. Des Moines, established that neither students nor teachers shed their First Amendment rights when they enter schools.
“I do not envy school administrators anywhere across the country right now,” Raskin said.
Smith’s statement also covered the spate of incidents of hate speech in county schools in recent days, calling them “deeply disturbing.” Racial slurs and swastikas have been found drawn on walls in schools in Bethesda and Silver Spring. Outside of schools, signs at two Silver Spring Churches have been defaced.
Smith encouraged anyone who sees or experiences hate-based speech or behaviors to report incidents to school administrators.