• PARIS — The SAD 17 Board of Directors will be presented with a draft policy next week that, if approved, will prohibit organized protests or walkouts in school or on school grounds while school is in session.

    The draft was developed and approved by the SAD 17 Board of Directors Policy Committee earlier this month and will go before the full board for discussion and a first reading on February 4.

    At that time, board members will discuss the proposal and take a vote to acknowledge the first reading of the policy. Any changes to the policy agreed to by consensus or formally adopted amendment are made at that time, prior to the second reading, according to the board’s policy adoption procedure, that was approved in 2000.

    At the next regular meeting, or a meeting less than eight weeks after the first reading, the policy is placed on the agenda for second reading and action. The policy adoption procedure states that amendments may be still be introduced and acted upon.

    If a main motion to approve the policy is not passed by a majority vote of the Board, the process for that policy is ended. However, if appropriate, the Board may vote to table further consideration of the policy to another date.

    Why a new policy?

    The action to develop a policy addressing student protests and walkouts was initiated following a student walkout last March when about 150 to 200 of the 1,100 student body at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School assembled at the bus loop to hold a silent memorial for the 17 victims of the February 2018 shooting at the Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Administrators and law enforcement stood by and the public was not allowed access on the grounds.

    The activity had been allowed by the administration under strict guidelines, but following the event, 33 students did not return to class and instead remained outside chanting anti-gun slogans. They were told to return to class or face discipline.

    In the days prior to the March 15, 2018 walkout, Superintendent Rick Colpitts had posted a letter to parents on the school district website saying they would allow a “limited forum,” for the students to show their support, but he made it clear that the administration was not sanctioning a walkout.

    The forum was allowed for students to spend 17 minutes in silence in an area where their safety could be monitored and they were told they would not be disciplined if they participated in the time of silence. Teachers were told they could neither encourage nor discourage participation, nor lead any initiative and all students who did participate had to make up lost classwork.

    The event caused some 50 parents to attend a SAD 17 a board of directors meeting the following week to express concern over what some called a lack of communication between the administration and parents, many who said they were unaware of the potential for what they considered an anti-gun rally.

    At the same time, some board members said they were worried that the administration’s approval of the limited walkout, could set precedence for other groups to use school grounds for political protest. Some were also concerned that the board of directors was not made aware of the walkout before it occurred.

    To address the concerns then chairman Ron Kugell said the issue would be addressed at the policy level to ensure that the board is part of any future decision concerning use of school grounds for political action.

    The Policy Committee, one of seven board standing committees, has been working on the new policy for the past year.

    The job of the Policy Committee is to review and develop policy. The Policy Committee may review, but not approve, administrative regulations and procedures. It is responsible for recommending new policies and/or policy changes to the full Board of Directors for action.

    Policies are only adopted, amended or repealed by the affirmative vote of a majority of members present and voting.

    Proposed policy

    According to the draft policy, no organized protests or walk-outs will be permitted in school or on school grounds while school is in session.

    “While the Board recognizes that students have certain First Amendment rights, students do not have the right to disrupt the instructional program or the orderly operations of the schools by leaving class to participate in a protest or walk-out,” the policy states.

    No organized protests or walk-outs will be permitted in school or on school grounds while school is in session.”

    Additionally, the draft policy states that the school unit will not sponsor or endorse any protest or walkout at any other location and “neither school administrators nor staff will not lead or participate in any student protest or walk-out during the school day, nor encourage or discourage students from participating.”

    Under the draft policy teaching and learning will continue during the time that any protest/walk-out occurs.

    “Any student who leaves the school building during the school day to participate in a protest or walk-out will be marked as having an “unexcused” absence for the missed portion of the school day,” the draft policy says. “The student may return to school following his/her participation in the protest/walk-out.”

    The draft policy informs parents that the school will not be responsible for supervising students once they leave school grounds and makes it clear that any student who leaves school to participate in a protest or walk-out is subject to the same disciplinary consequences as would be incurred for any other unexcused absence, and must make up missed work in the same way.

    Students may hold organized protests on school grounds when school is not in session in accordance with the terms of the Board’s facilities use policy and regulations.

    Staff are encouraged to provide opportunities for students to express their views in the context of the instructional program through classroom discussion and the Board’s policy on teaching about controversial issues, and teach students how to make their voices heard in the wider context of civics and parents are encouraged through the draft policy to talk with their children about parental expectations regarding participation in student protests/walkouts.

    Other policies

    The school currently has policies that affect actions such as political or religious student meetings in school.

    For example, under the policy dealing with “Student Organizations – limited open/closed forums” The Equal Access Act (Title VlIl of Public Law 98-377) requires that public secondary schools grant equal access to student groups who wish to meet for religious, political, or philosophical purposes, if the school allows other types of non-curriculum-related student groups to meet.

    This policy, adopted by the board of directors in 2000, establishes the open forum be held during after-school hours. The meeting does not in any way interfere with the conduct of regular instructional activities of the schools. Since the education of the students is the prime  responsibility of the school, any other activities are secondary. The school may deny facilities to students on the basis that such activities or meetings interfere with the instructional program.

    The board also adopted a six-page Code of Conduct for students in 2003 that was last revised in October 2006, that defines  its expectations for student behavior and provides the framework for a “safe, orderly, and respectful learning environment.”

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine weighed in on student walkouts after last winter’s nationwide student reaction to the Florida school shooting, agreeing that a school can adopt reasonable rules which regulate the “time, place, and manner” of exercising a student’s free speech rights.

    The ACLU further states that a school is not allowed to prohibit or censor speech or press activities based on its content (what you are saying), unless it falls within one of these two exceptions:

    • It is foreseeable that the speech will cause substantial disruption to the operation of the school.
    • It is too lewd or vulgar for the school audience.

    The SAD 17 Board of Directors meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Central Office meeting room at University Center next to the Oxford Hills Comprehsnive High School.

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