PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Some Northwest Florida students are speaking out claiming their First Amendment rights are under attack.
Students were passionate at a Tuesday school board meeting.
“If the law, time and time again, has argued for the safeguarding of the First Amendment rights as students, why should we not be able to protest or petition peacefully?” said Pensacola High School Junior Autumn Sawyer.
This controversy comes with an item proposed in the District’s new Rights and Responsibilities Handbook for the next school year. It could mean suspension of up to five days for students if they protest, petition or publicize anything that would interfere with the orderly process of the school environment.
Item A.A. on Page 67 is titled “Unauthorized Assembly, Publications, etc.” and the body reads:
“Demonstrations, petitions, possession and/or distribution of unauthorized publications, or misuse of electronic messages or computers which interfere with the orderly process of the school environment, a school function, or an extra-curricular/co-curricular activity.”Rights and Responsibilities Handbook
“This document determines what I can wear,” said student Ben Sherek. “It determines where I can be. It determines what I can say and it determines what I can own. Now it’s coming after what I can publish. Whether or not I can petition.”
Students have recently started online petitions to bring about change in their schools. With this new rule, some students argued the language could mean lawsuits for the district.
“If this article passes, at least one of the many thousands of people involved in school boards will inevitably sue the school district and whether they win or lose, it doesn’t matter,” said student Tristan Martinez. “This is going to be incredibly costly for the school board.”
School Board General Counsel Ellen Odom agrees.
“It could be phrased more clearly, or perhaps some additional clarification could be inserted if that is the will of the board,” said Odom.
There will be a public hearing coming up in June before the new handbook is finalized.