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On Student Gun Protests, ACLU Urges Schools To Embrace 'Lesson In Civics'

School desks
Flickr user: dcJohn www.flickr.com/photos/dcjohn/

Next Wednesday, March 14, is one month since the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and students across the country are planning another walkout.

On Monday, the ACLU of Illinois encouraged schools to take the opportunity for a "lesson in civics."

In an open letter published Monday, the civil liberties group asked schools to honor students' rights to free speech.

In a telephone interview, ACLU lawyer Rebecca Glenberg said it’s also important to encourage discussion among students with different views.

“Teaching students how to have disagreements is an important skill, and a crucial one for students as they become actors in our democracy," Glenberg said.

The ACLU also suggested schools excuse absences for demonstrating students — just like they already do for religious holidays or doctors' appointments.

“We think that exercising their free speech rights is conducive to their well being as well," Glenberg said. "This should be considered a good reason for occasionally missing class.”

Different schools are taking different approaches: Some are working with students to make sure the walkouts remain safe.

Some schools have said no to the walkouts; others are demanding students limit what they say, like not taking a position on gun control.

Neither the Illinois Association of School Administrators nor the Illinois State Rifle Association responded to requests for comment on the ACLU's open letter.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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