Later this week, on March 14, students across the country plan to leave their desks for the National School Walkout, inspired by the activists and survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida (who are also organizing March 24’s March for Our Lives). Since the February 14 school shooting that left 17 people dead, many students have already staged their own protests, calling for stricter gun control and action on the part of both local and national politicians. Not all schools have encouraged this particular type of activism from their students, though, and the line between punishment for exercising free speech and penalty for skipping class has grown blurry.
To help clear up any confusion about what is and is not protected when you walk out of class, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) and National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) teamed up to put together a user-friendly guide to what can and cannot get you into trouble while protesting during the school day. The free comic, by cartoonist Kai Texel, lays out a familiar situation — getting a poster ready for a march — and lets students know how their actions can be interpreted by their academic institutions.
“In the U.S., freedom of speech is paramount,” author and CBLDF advisory board co-chair Neil Gaiman said in a provided statement. “The First Amendment states that you can’t be arrested for saying things the government doesn’t like. It’s important that students everywhere know that they have the right to be heard. This comic will help provide them with practical tools to raise their voice.”
Read on for the whole comic and to find out which of your rights are protected as you make your voice heard this week. “Whether students choose to participate in this national movement or not, whether they walk out into the hallway or march to their senator’s office, whether they wear orange or write an op-ed for the school paper, this moment is the ultimate First Amendment lesson,” Abena Hutchful, coordinator of NCAC’s Youth Free Expression Program, said in a statement. “We hope that teachers will engage with their students in productive ways and we want to make sure that students know what is — and is not — protected protest speech in schools.”
By Hanna Howard / Teen Vogue