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Ohio State, Other Colleges Pledge To Protect Admissions Of Protesting Students

Students at Lakewood High School in Northeast Ohio joined a national day of walkouts to protest gun violence.
Lakewood High School Walkout

The Ohio State University and more than a dozen other Ohio colleges and universities have vowed to defend the admissions of students who are disciplined for participating in peaceful protests.

High school walkouts started across the country after 17 teachers and students were killed during a Valentine’s Day shooting at their Florida high school last month. More than 200 colleges and universities nationwide have made a similar promise.

Many of the protests, including in Ohio, have called on Congress to pass stricter gun laws and for policies that will create a safer environment in schools.

A Texas school administrator threatened to suspend students who participated in such demonstrations in his district, and that’s when colleges and universities decided to take a stand, many joining the National Association of College Admissions Counseling’s public statement of support for high school students.

“We are sensitive to the fact that every institution at the high school level, every school district and private institution, has to make a choice how they will handle their students,” NACAC President-elect Stefanie Niles said, “but from our perspective, if students are doing so in a manner that’s productive, we would not have that impact their admission decision.”

The national group represents admissions officers at institutions across the country.

In Ohio, schools including Oberlin, Case Western Reserve, Ohio State, and the University of Cincinnati have signed on to the pledge, saying they will not hold a suspension for participating in a peaceful protest against applicants.

“Disciplinary action related to lawful protest will not impact a student or applicant’s admissions outcome. The Ohio State University supports everyone’s right to civic engagement,” said university spokesman Ben Johnson in a statement to The Lantern.

Niles said the stance was motivated by the actions of Florida high school students who have lead protests in their hometown of Parkland and at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

“When I think about the students from Parkland, Florida, their desire to reclaim their high school space as a safe zone, and then how they are inspiring other students around the country, that’s what opportunity has been created for colleges and universities at this point in time, to really support these student leaders,” Niles said.

The first set of Ohio student walkouts was held February 21, but more are planned for March 14 and April 20.

Vigils on March 14 will mark one month since the shooting in Parkland and on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting where 12 students and a teacher were killed.

With threats in other states to discipline students who participate in similar demonstrations, Mike Brickner with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said students do have the right to express themselves, but to remember they don’t have immunity from all punishment.

“State law does require young people to be in school and so, if you do walk out, that is technically an unexcused absence,” he said.

In Northeast Ohio, many district officials have said while they have not sanctioned the upcoming protests, they will not prevent students from participating.

In a written statement, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District said administrators have issued guidance for teachers who have students walk out.

“If students leave their classroom or school to participate in a walk out, teachers will mark the student as unexcused tardy or absent as appropriate and we follow each school's normal procedures for reporting and recording unexcused tardiness or absence,” the statement read.

In Lakewood, the school district is working with student leaders to organize a planned demonstration that will be sanctioned by Lakewood High School.

Brickner said students who want to protest should check their school’s absence policies before deciding to participate, but, he added, districts cannot punish students beyond what those already established policies lay out.

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.