HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – The Hanover County School Board approved a student code of conduct Tuesday that includes a section on walkouts that was rewritten after concerns were raised about whether the initial language in the proposal violated students’ constitutional rights.

With the board’s approval Tuesday, the school district’s code of student conduct now includes a section on walkouts in its “definitions of terms.” The definition of “walkouts” in the Hanover County Public Schools’ student code is as follows:

“Students are entitled to a learning environment free of unnecessary disruption. Any physical, written, or verbal disturbance, communication, or activity within the school setting or during related activities, which may interfere with teaching or the orderly conduct of school activities is not allowed and will be subject to the Code of Student Conduct. Additionally, leaving class, including the student’s assigned location or campus, during school hours without permission is prohibited and will be subject to the Code of Student Conduct.”

The initial proposal presented to the School Board in May would have added “protests and walkouts” to the code’s definitions section, but a district spokesperson asserted it only clarified the division’s position on demonstrations. 

Language was added and removed from the proposal in the final version of the code that was approved unanimously Tuesday.

The changes include the removal of the sentence that “Demonstrations, including protests and walkouts, are prohibited” and that participation will be subject to disciplinary action. The original language in the proposal reads as follows:

Protests and Walkouts

Students are entitled to a learning environment free of unnecessary disruption. Demonstrations, including protests and walkouts, are prohibited. Any physical, written, or verbal disturbance, communication, or activity within the school setting or during related activities, which may interfere with teaching or the orderly conduct of school activities is not allowed. Participation, including leaving class, the student’s assigned location or campus, during school hours will be subject to disciplinary action.”

PROPOSED ADDITION TO HANOVER SCHOOLS’ STUDENT CODE OF CONDUCT’S “DEFINITION OF TERMS” SECTION IN MAY.

School personnel who presented it to Hanover’s School Board on May 10 said it would not violate students’ First Amendment rights, a point backed by Lisa Seward, the Hanover school board attorney.

On Tuesday, Seward said there were questions for clarity and “feedback of confusion of what was intended,” so the district offered revisions that they hoped “would be helpful.”

Board members said they felt the policy aligns with the recommendations from the state and mirrors the standard set in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a watershed 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the free expression rights of students who wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

Hanover School Board member John Axselle asked Seward if the policy would allow “passive” demonstrations, such as wearing a t-shirt in protest, but show that walking out of class “is a disruption.” Seward said that was an accurate description.

The board voted on the entire student code of conduct Tuesday night, not just the new definition for walkouts.

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