Prohibiting Student Protest Challenges the Very Purpose of School

Reston, VA – In response to the current cotroversy over student-athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti issued the following statement:

The current controversy over athletes taking a knee during the national anthem has reignited the debate over appropriate student expression. In terms of student rights, there seems little to discuss. Courts have affirmed and reaffirmed that students do not check their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate, and speech cannot be curtailed unless it creates a material disruption to the educational process.

Yet in this debate, something greater is at stake than individual student rights. Prohibiting student protest challenges the very purpose of school as a place of learning.

A student’s taking a knee can trigger a crucial conversation about the nature of protest, about what taking a knee represents, and even about why it might offend some observers. But students must first know that school is a safe place where they can learn to amplify their voices courageously and constructively. They need to be empowered to have those conversations now so those skills are well-practiced when they participate in a democracy and ultimately lead their future—the precise aim of NASSP’s Raising Student Voice and Participation framework. None of this happens when schools teach a ritual compliance thinly disguised as “respect.” Compliance, after all, is a skill in little demand for 21st century success.

NASSP is proud of its legacy of student empowerment. We are the founders and the home of the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Student Council—all of which have launched generations of leaders. Today, those programs provide ready-made platforms for courageous student-led conversations about things that matter to students. Such conversations are the essence of learning. And you cannot have real student learning without real student empowerment.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils.