Walking out of school as an act of protest or civil disobedience has a long history in the United States. From the student strikes of the 1960s to the March for Our Lives walkouts in 2018, students have used this tactic to voice their opposition and drive social change.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Walking out of school is usually not illegal in itself, but students may face disciplinary consequences from their school depending on district policies and local laws.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the legal issues around students walking out of school. We’ll cover relevant court cases, typical school policies, potential disciplinary actions, and alternatives for students who want to demonstrate and speak out.

Key Court Decisions on School Walkouts

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

In the landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the United States Supreme Court ruled that students have the right to express their beliefs and opinions, even while at school.

The case involved a group of students who wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The school district argued that the armbands disrupted the learning environment and violated school policy. However, the Supreme Court held that the students’ silent protest was a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.

This decision established an important precedent for student rights and has been cited in subsequent cases involving school walkouts. It affirmed that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

However, it is important to note that the Court also recognized that schools have the authority to regulate speech in certain circumstances, such as when it materially and substantially disrupts the educational process.

Bethel School District v. Fraser

In the case of Bethel School District v. Fraser, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of a student’s freedom of speech in a school setting. In this case, a high school student gave a speech containing sexually suggestive language during a school assembly.

The school suspended him, and the student and his parents challenged the punishment, arguing that it violated his First Amendment rights.

However, the Supreme Court upheld the school’s decision, stating that schools have the authority to prohibit speech that is “vulgar, lewd, obscene, or plainly offensive.” The Court recognized that schools have a responsibility to teach students the boundaries of acceptable speech and conduct.

This ruling has been influential in cases involving student speech, including protests and walkouts, as it highlights the balance between free expression and maintaining a safe and respectful learning environment.

Understanding these key court decisions is crucial when considering the legality of school walkouts. While students have the right to express their opinions and beliefs, schools also have the authority to regulate speech that disrupts the educational process or violates established rules.

It is important for students and schools to find a balance that respects both the rights of the individual and the needs of the educational environment.

Typical School District Policies on Walkouts

When it comes to walkouts, each school district may have its own specific policies and guidelines in place. However, there are some common themes that tend to emerge across different districts. Here are some typical school district policies on walkouts:

1. Unauthorized Absences

Most school districts consider walkouts to be unauthorized absences. This means that if a student participates in a walkout without permission from the school, they will be marked as absent for that period or day.

These absences are usually unexcused, meaning they may impact a student’s attendance record and potentially result in disciplinary action.

2. Consequences for Unexcused Absences

Consequences for unexcused absences vary from district to district. Some schools may have a progressive disciplinary system in place, where repeated unexcused absences can lead to more severe consequences such as detention, loss of privileges, or even suspension.

It’s important for students and parents to familiarize themselves with their district’s policies regarding unexcused absences to understand the potential repercussions.

3. Permission and Parental Consent

In some cases, schools may allow students to participate in a walkout if they have obtained permission and parental consent. This could involve submitting a written request to the school administration, attending a meeting with parents and school officials, or following a specific process outlined by the district.

It’s crucial for students to communicate with their school administration and understand the steps they need to take if they want to participate in a walkout.

4. Alternative Activities

Instead of participating in a walkout, some school districts may provide alternative activities for students who wish to express their opinions or advocate for a cause. This could include organizing assemblies, panel discussions, or other events within the school community.

These alternative activities aim to provide a safe and structured environment for students to engage in meaningful discussions and express their views while still adhering to the school’s policies.

5. Safety and Supervision

School districts prioritize the safety and well-being of their students. Therefore, during a walkout, schools may have specific protocols in place to ensure the safety of all students involved. This could include assigning staff members to supervise the walkout, coordinating with local law enforcement, or establishing designated areas for students to gather.

These measures are put in place to minimize any potential risks and ensure a safe environment for all students.

It’s important to note that the policies and procedures outlined above are meant to provide a general overview of typical school district policies on walkouts. Each district may have its own unique policies, so it’s crucial for students, parents, and educators to familiarize themselves with the specific guidelines and procedures in their own school district.

Potential Consequences for Participating in a Walkout

Unexcused absences

One of the potential consequences of participating in a walkout is receiving unexcused absences from school. When students walk out of school without permission, their absence is considered unexcused, meaning it is not approved by the school administration or parents.

Unexcused absences can have negative effects on a student’s academic record and may result in disciplinary action.


In some cases, participating in a walkout can lead to suspension from school. Schools have policies in place to maintain order and ensure the safety of students. Walking out of school without permission is often seen as a violation of these policies and can result in disciplinary action.

Depending on the severity of the walkout and the school’s policies, students may face short-term or long-term suspensions.

Failing grades

Another potential consequence of participating in a walkout is failing grades. When students miss class due to participating in a walkout, they miss out on valuable instruction and learning opportunities.

This can impact their academic performance and result in failing grades for missed assignments, quizzes, or tests. It is important for students to consider the potential academic consequences before deciding to participate in a walkout.

It is worth noting that the consequences for participating in a walkout can vary depending on the school district and the specific circumstances of the walkout. Schools may have different policies in place regarding student protests, and it is important for students to familiarize themselves with these policies before taking any action.

For more information on the legal and educational implications of walking out of school, you can visit Education Week or American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) websites.

Alternatives to Walking Out of School

While walking out of school may be a form of protest that some students choose to engage in, there are alternative ways to make your voice heard and bring attention to important issues. These alternatives provide an opportunity for students to express their concerns while still adhering to school policies and local laws.

Here are some alternatives to consider:

1. Organize protests before or after school hours

One alternative to walking out of school is to organize protests before or after school hours. By scheduling a protest outside of regular school hours, students can gather and voice their opinions without disrupting the educational environment.

This approach allows students to engage in peaceful demonstrations while still respecting their academic responsibilities.

2. Letters/petitions to administrators

Another alternative is to write letters or petitions to school administrators. This method allows students to express their concerns in a formal and respectful manner. By outlining the specific issues they wish to address, students can effectively communicate their grievances and propose potential solutions.

This approach can also help initiate a dialogue between students and school officials, fostering a constructive and collaborative environment.

3. Social media campaigns

Social media has become a powerful tool for raising awareness and mobilizing communities. Students can leverage social media platforms to launch campaigns focused on the issues they want to address. By creating hashtags, sharing informative posts, and encouraging others to join the conversation, students can amplify their message and reach a wider audience.

Social media campaigns can help create a sense of solidarity among students and empower them to make a difference.

It’s important to remember that each school and district may have specific guidelines and policies regarding protests and other forms of activism. Before engaging in any alternative methods, students should familiarize themselves with these guidelines to ensure they are acting within the bounds of the law and school regulations.

For more information on student rights and activism in schools, you can visit websites like ACLU.org or ED.gov.

How to Walk Out Legally and Safely

Walking out of school can be a powerful way for students to express their opinions and advocate for change. However, it’s important to understand the laws and guidelines surrounding such actions. Here are some steps to help you walk out legally and safely:

Know your rights

Before organizing a walkout, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with your rights as a student. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects your right to freedom of speech and assembly.

However, these rights may be subject to certain limitations, especially within the school environment. It is recommended to consult your school’s policies and local laws to ensure you are within your rights.

Get parental permission

While it may not be legally required, getting parental permission is a responsible and respectful step to take. Communicate with your parents or guardians about your intentions and discuss the reasons behind your desire to walk out.

Their support and guidance can be invaluable in ensuring your safety and well-being during the walkout.

Follow school rules on leaving campus

When planning a walkout, it’s important to respect and abide by your school’s rules and regulations. Some schools may have specific protocols in place for leaving campus during school hours. Make sure to familiarize yourself with these guidelines and adhere to them to avoid unnecessary disciplinary actions or conflicts with school administrators.

Stay peaceful and on-message

During a walkout, it’s crucial to maintain a peaceful and focused atmosphere. Remember that the purpose of a walkout is to raise awareness and advocate for change, so staying on-message is essential. Avoid engaging in any form of violence, destruction of property, or disruptive behavior that could undermine the legitimacy and impact of your cause.

Remember to stay safe, be respectful, and prioritize your education. Walking out of school can be a powerful way to make your voice heard, but it’s important to do so responsibly and within the boundaries of the law.

If you have any doubts or concerns, consider seeking guidance from trusted adults, such as teachers or school counselors.


While walking out of school is usually not a crime in itself, students must weigh the risks of disciplinary action and prepare properly. Understanding the legal landscape and planning peaceful demonstrations can help student activists make their voices heard while minimizing consequences.

With some foresight and by following certain guidelines, students can effectively organize walkouts and protests to enact meaningful change in their schools and communities.

Similar Posts