Prevent New Jersey Schools From Suppressing Student Free Speech

schools

Target: Newark Public Schools Advisory Board

Goal: Tell Newark public schools they must allow students to protest budget cuts

Earlier this month an estimated 2,000 students from at least a dozen public high schools in Newark, New Jersey participated in a mass walk-out of class to protest unrelenting budget cuts, school closings and teacher layoffs by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Rather than embrace student civic engagement, some schools reportedly responded with threats, intimidation and punishment to keep students from participating in constitutionally protected speech. Some security guards reportedly carried bats and used other methods of intimidation. Schools do not have the right to threaten or prevent students from engaging in political activity and this response is a breach to the students’ First Amendment rights.

The student walkout was organized by the Newark Students Union (NSU) in response to a $56 million budget cut proposed by state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson. Students argued that the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 mandates full equitable funding of all school districts, which entitles Newark public schools to certain funding. However, Governor Christie’s administration deliberately underfunded education and handed out $2 billion in tax breaks to big businesses, including Panasonic, Citigroup and Prudential Insurance. Many after-school programs, such as sports teams, clubs, arts and music programs, are going to cease to exist from now on. Chris Christie also wants to completely eliminate preschool in the state and fire many teachers.

Several public high schools in Newark put the students on lockdown, prohibiting them from protesting and allowed security to carry bats. Students do not lose their constitutional rights when they are at school. These rights include the right to engage in civil disobedience and the right to free speech. The NJ Public Schools Advisory Board must tell schools they cannot prohibit students from voicing their outrage over budget cuts.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear members of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board,

Governor Christie has underfunded education and handed out billions of dollars in tax breaks to big businesses at the expense of New Jersey students. He proposes shutting down many valuable after-school programs and preschool as well as mass teacher layoffs. Balancing the state’s budget is an important undertaking, but this does not give schools the right to prevent students from protesting changes they see as a threat to their right for quality education.

Several schools in Newark put students on lockdown, prohibiting the students from expressing their constitutional right to free speech. Some security officers further were reported to carry bats and create an atmosphere of intimidation and retaliation. Sympathetic teachers were encouraged to not speak out. The School Advisory Board needs to condemn the schools that suppressed student free speech and allow the students to protest.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: (nz)dave via flickr

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