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Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities are among at least 50 colleges nationwide making it clear that prospective students' admissions will not be jeopardized if their high schools discipline them for taking part in peaceful protests.

The question is why such positions have to be made clear.

Select high school administrators around the country have given public notice to their students: You might face out-of-school suspensions for protests during school hours. The possibility of such protests has increased following the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

School officials in many parts of the country have told students they will be disciplined if they participate in a walkout. Some have added foreboding warnings about how such discipline might look on a student's “permanent record.” 

There's nothing wrong with disciplining protesting students, as long as the punishment is line with other such discipline dispensed by a school. The punishment meted for leaving school to protest or support gun laws should be treated the same way, which should be no different than any other departure for reasons of social or political protest. (Or whatever other offenses a school outlines in advance.)

Part of the importance of learning about and participating in peaceful protests is that sometimes civil disobedience has fallout. Protesters don't always say their piece and get to leave. Depending on any number of variables, a protest effort could lead to alienation of friends and family, not to mention arrest, or even jail time. That (and worse) has happened to countless protesters in our country's history. Civil disobedience has a price. For that reason, we've tended to honor those able to change the world via peaceful protest.

Lessons on the results of protests and disobedience are better placed than any threat to an individual's future. Make sure the students know the possible outcome, certainly. But “You could be suspended” does not need to go hand in hand with “and your decision could affect your future school choices.” 

Ultimately, much depends on what we and our students expect from our schools. Do high schools exist only to pass students onto the next level? Or do we emphasize the educational and the social because those efforts help shape our society?

Some administrators in education follow that concept.

Stu Schmill, the dean of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said student records of applicants attending peaceful protests would not “negatively impact” MIT’s admissions outcome.

“We have long held that students should not make decisions based on what they think will get them into college, but instead based on values and interests that are important to them,” Schmill wrote.

That's the right attitude. It's unfortunate we're at a point in time where the obvious needs be clearly stated.


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