Education

District threatens detention for students who cut class for rally

SCASD superintendent addresses students' Inauguration Day rally

State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O'Donnell addresses the public about a rally held at State High in the wake of the presidential election.
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State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O'Donnell addresses the public about a rally held at State High in the wake of the presidential election.

A rally held at State College Area High School attracted a group of students promoting peace and love in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday.

But district administrators made it clear to students and their families of the possibility of discipline if students violated school policy and skipped class to attend.

Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said that the policy allowed students to exercise their rights with as little disturbance to the structured school day as possible.

“My only wish was that it would be at the end of the day, but it’s not and they have a right to do that during the day,” O’Donnell said. “(We) respect that, but also for those student who participate and cut class we’ll have our typical response to that.”

According to the policy, students who skip class risk detention.

Sebrina Doyle, the mother of a State High junior, said she thinks all students should have been able to participate without being reprimanded.

“As adults and educators, it is our job to help students find constructive ways to use their voices, not to silence them,” she said in an email. “While I understand the concerns coming from the district regarding safety and disruption in the event of a walkout, there are provisions that can be put in place to allow it to take place in a safe way and without the threat of (discipline). Let this be used as an educational opportunity rather than trying to control and reprimand.”

But State College-based attorney Andrew Shubin said though “political expression lies at the core of First Amendment protected activity,” their status as students leaves them open to discipline when their behavior disrupts school activity.

“Schools may not however, impose harsher discipline on the protesting students than they would otherwise impose on a student who would miss a class for another unexcused reason,” Shubin said.

That was a discussion Shubin said he had with his son, who is a junior in the Delta Program.

“I told him that I was proud of him for taking a stand on behalf of his education and our country,” Shubin said. “I also told him that civil disobedience is an act of patriotism and has been critical in advancing causes equality, justice and peace, and is more important now than ever. ... The State High and Delta students who participated in today’s walkout have decided that they are willing to accept school discipline ... as the price for demonstrating that they care about their education and country. ”

And discussion among students is something O’Donnell said he encourages when it comes to topics like the presidential election — as long as it doesn’t violate school protocol.

“(Thursday) I was in an AP government class and there was student exchange of very different opinions of an issue that’s countrywide,” he said. “That type of learning around real sensitive beliefs that are also national issues I think is a valuable exchange and a very valuable learning experience for students on how to conduct themselves even though their strong believes and emotions are different than the person sitting next to them.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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