Resources for Supporting Democracy and Politics in Action

The political events and images of rioters storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, reached schools and homes across the nation and beyond.

Members of the National Guard and the Washington D.C. police stand guard to keep demonstrators away from the U.S. CapitolIn its wake, education leaders may be grappling with crafting communications to share their school districts' perspectives with students, families and employees on important issues that have emerged from these events.

NSPRA has compiled the following resources that may be helpful as districts seek to provide leadership and understanding. Have something to add to the resources below? Please email editorial@nspra.org for possible inclusion.

School District Statements, Letters and Posts

Statements and Letters 

Posts 

When Your School Employees Weigh In

National events may prompt school employees to voice their personal opinions in virtual or physical classrooms, on social media or through other methods of communication. School leaders must balance the employee’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech with the real or implied threat of disruption to student learning. Employees (and students) do not check their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate. But schools have a duty, and recognized authority, to limit expression to maintain order, to protect the safety of the school community, and to provide a nurturing environment for learning. In today’s climate, as political and social debates find their way into school communities, school officials face the often-daunting challenge of balancing the constitutional rights of employees with their responsibility to maintain a safe and orderly environment for learning.

School leaders should review (and update, if necessary) their district policies and regulations on use of social media as well as human resources guidelines on employee behavior. It is also advised to consult with the school district’s attorney or the state school board association when policies and regulations are updated.

The following resource will be helpful in understanding the legal complexities of this topic:

When Your Students Want to Protest

Student protests and other acts of civil disobedience can occur for any number of reasons, including issues related to race, immigration, school violence and perceived injustices. These events are rarely spur-of-the-moment, which can give school staff time to prepare for such events.

Prepare your district now by reviewing the following action steps, excerpted from The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual for Schools, and by checking out the example communications related to “Demonstrations, Protests, Strikes and Walkouts” in the online NSPRA Gold Mine.

Action Steps* 

  • Collect intelligence on upcoming events and important issues. This may include monitoring of more commonly used social media and other student communication channels. Work to confirm the accuracy of the information. 
  • Initiate prevention and mitigation strategies, such as creating an educational component around issues of concern. The goal is to structure classroom discussions with students around topics or issues of concern before they become a source for or need to protest or demonstrate. 
  • Give students an alternate forum for political expression. Consider opening the auditorium, gymnasium or athletic fields to give students a space and time to conduct their demonstration, discuss their issues, and have a voice on campus. Persuade students that it is not in their best interests to conduct a walkout or demonstration.

  • Convey the value of staying in school and the potential safety issues, suggesting alternative demonstration activities have proved to be successful in limiting events.  Schedule a relevant, intervening event to dissuade students from walking out. 
  • Convene relevant district and community personnel and partners to coordinate response plans to a planned walkout, demonstration, or protest. Communicate the response plan to district and school staff, parents, and appropriate agencies. Do not forcibly prevent students from leaving school, and consider whether prohibiting students’ right to demonstrate is the most prudent action. Often monitoring such situations with the goal of establishing a balance between a disciplined environment for education and allowing students’ freedom of speech creates a more positive atmosphere and relationship. 
  • Designate school staff to accompany students on their walkout route or in the demonstration area. Ensure the safety of students at all times.  When students return to school, staff should take the opportunity to have a conversation with them about the rights and wrongs of the situation and to consider whether there are better ways for their voices to be heard. This promotes the spirit of education and the opportunity for students to express themselves.

* Source: The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual for Schools, NSPRA © 2016; Source: Los Angeles Unified School District. To purchase, visit NSPRA’s Online Store.

Engaging Your Community in Dialogue

Authentic engagement moves beyond events and information dissemination to creating opportunities for stakeholders to deliberate through dialogue and do meaningful work to improve the learning environment and promote improved student achievement. Ideas surfaced in ongoing, multi-tiered conversations with stakeholders and educators can lead to new thinking about issues and sustainable solutions. Creating a sustained culture of engagement, deeply embedded in schools and local communities is not easy, but the benefits outweigh the investment. (Adapted from The Politics of Authentic Engagement**.)

Resources for Community Engagement

Resources for Student and Teacher Conversations

**Source: The Politics of Authentic Engagement by Kathy Leslie with Judy Taccogna. To purchase, visit NSPRA’s Online Store.