District to Examine Discipline Policies after Complaints Following Student Walk Out

Cindy Pickett was one of the parents and community members who spoke out against the district’s disciplining of students who walked out with an unexcused absence.

It was a story that drew attention across the community and across the region, as the Bee ran the headline: “This district in a liberal California city marked down the names of student protesters.”

That district was DJUSD as the Bee reported, “School officials in Davis, a college town that’s one of the state’s most liberal cities, told students in advance they would get a mark on their attendance record if they chose to walk out Wednesday.”

Spokesperson Maria Clayton told the Bee in a phone interview that “the district respected their First Amendment right, but added the expressing that right came with consequences.” She said it wasn’t like a school pep rally.

This drew the ire of many in the community, including Board Member Madhavi Sunder who registered that the “the Board address the issue of discipline for student walkouts at our next scheduled meeting on April 5.”

She told her colleagues in a statement on Thursday, “I believe that the district and the Board failed to take advantage of a unique educational opportunity that this emergent national youth movement presents.”

Ms. Sunder pointed out that a million children “mobilized peacefully and passionately across the country at 10 a.m. yesterday to tell their elected representatives in Washington, DC that the right to be safe and secure in school is a fundamental human right.

“I am incredibly proud that 1300 Davis students joined them. More than 200 elementary school students in Davis participated in the organized national walkout,” she said.

She stated, “I am disappointed that Davis took a tentative approach to this national event, the purpose of which was first and foremost to honor the innocent fallen – students, teachers and staff.
We are all Parkland. I believe it would have been empowering to Davis students, teachers and staff to have more fully supported their engagement in this national moment of mourning and advocacy for safe schools.”

Superintendent John Bowes noted in his comment that students across the district took part in the walkouts and did so in an “orderly, calm, peaceful and respectful” manner.

However, he made it clear that “students and our school community received clear communications from my office and from our site leaders consistent with the guidance provided post-Presidential election in 2016 and our current district policy, that students who leave class to participate in protests or other unauthorized reasons would be considered ‘unexcused.'”

He noted that he has received “a great deal of feedback from our community about the walk out.”

He noted some of this was “gratitude for district efforts to keep students safe and allow space for all voices and perspectives to be heard and respected.”  Some of it was “support for student activism and a call to change our district policy to do away with unexcused absences for protests and walkouts.”

There was also “opposition to any student demonstrations during school hours and calls for punitive measures on those who take part.”

He concluded: “I am proud of our students who expressed their beliefs in a respectful and peaceful way and recognizing that an unexcused absence would result.”

There were members of the public that came to speak out against the policy.  Claudia Krich said, “Unlike Sacramento students, Davis students are being punished with unexcused absences for speaking out against murder in our schools.

“I say shame on you and us.”

She responded to Maria Clayton’s comment and “said it wasn’t like a school pep rally,” arguing that many students have “zero interest in school pep rallies, but every student is in danger from the gun violence that’s pervasive in this country.

“This is not political.  The school has no reason to try to be neutral.  Neutral?  Children are being murdered, it could easily happen here.”

Rachel Beck said that she was concerned from the start about the tone of the district communique on the walk out.  She pointed out that when the district sees political speech, they make an effort to be neutral and treat all political speech as neutral.

“But I would ask, who gets to say what’s political?” she asked.  “Who gets to designate an issue as untouchable?  Whose issues are served by making an issue up for political debate?

“Forty-five years as a woman in this country has taught me that my life is a political issue,” she stated.  She said just because there is a political debate “doesn’t mean there isn’t a moral right and wrong.

“The district can maintain that gun safety is a political issue and that you must remain neutral, but the district will not be neutral.  It will be solidly on the side of the status quo.  And the status quo is that our children are not safe in school and they are not safe in school because we have a gun problem in this country that we are collectively unwilling to confront honestly,” she said.

“So we have a responsibility not to remain neutral.  We have a responsibility to look at the issue and decide what is in the best interest of our children and their education,” she concluded.

Cathy Haskell said that she went to the high school to support them in what they were trying to do, and they were greeted by a police person in full gear letting them know that they were not allowed to participate in that.

She said, observing this, “It just struck me that this wasn’t a walk out.  These students were on campus with fully vested police officers at every possible entrance and district staff and supervisory staff all around the quad.

“It really looked like it was about keeping them there and on campus.”  She added, “I wanted to shout to the students, walk out because they really never left campus.”

Cindy Pickett said that students across the nation sent a message “on no uncertain terms they indicated that they’ve had enough.  Enough of the school shootings that have killed and injured, enough of feeling like their safety is secondary in the eyes of the legislature, and enough of being left out of the conversation.

“I applaud these students in Davis,” she said.

Ms. Pickett stated, “What I’m not proud of, however, is the response of the DJUSD administration.”  She called the response of the administration “bureaucratic at best, and vaguely threatening at worst.”

She said that the message was safety about all, but she pointed out that if they are thinking of safety only in terms of leaving campus, “that’s missing the forest through the trees.”

“The forest is that we have a national problem and that’s what we should be focusing on,” she said.  “To focus on these details I think misses the point.”

For a lot of parents, the unexcused absence was not a big deal, she said.  “But bringing it up sent a message.  It sent the message that hey kids… I guess we have to let you protest because it’s your right, but we wish you wouldn’t so here’s an unexcused absence.”

The board will discuss this further at their next meeting.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Eric Gelber

    Through its response, DJUSD took what could have been a powerful learning experience on the importance of civic activism and involvement and diverted attention to government’s mindless adherence to bureaucratic rules. I guess there’s a lesson there too.

  2. Keith O

    I think the question is how far will this go?  Yes, everyone can pretty much agree that this march was for a just cause.  We also had students walk out when Trump got elected and that was pretty much excused.  What would happen if a group had walked out if a Democrat had been elected?  Would local people have looked at that and said no problem, that’s their right?  It’s a slippery slope once the door is open.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think there are some clear and definable lines if that’s your concern. But I also think if the students have the right to free speech, then the district should not inflict punishments. There is also the fact that somehow most if not all other districts figured out a way to deal with this without punishing students.

  3. Tia Will


    I disagree that the core issue is “how far will this go”. Is not the shooting of innocents “as far as things can go”? What more extreme can you envision than Sandyhook or Parkland?

    Like one of the speakers at the UCD observation, I do not see this as a right wing vs left wing issue. The concern of the students is being able to live out their natural lives free from massacre and free from forever having to live as a “survivor”. What they are seeking is increased safety, decreased risk. Conservatives are just as much at risk as are liberals as the Scalise shooting demonstrated.

    We need to move beyond our political perspectives and be willing to consider what reasonable steps could be taken to lessen people’s risk just as we would to lessen the risk of dying from an automobile collision, or the flu, neither of which tend to send people into frantic partisanship.

    I agree that the district made a major error in not standing with the students in their decision to honor their first amendment rights to speak out on behalf of their own safety. This should have been a fully supportive, not punitive action as an exercise in legal civic activity.

    1. Keith O

      I disagree that the core issue is “how far will this go”. Is not the shooting of innocents “as far as things can go”? What more extreme can you envision than Sandyhook or Parkland?

      You obviously missed my point.  If you read I wrote: ” Yes, everyone can pretty much agree that this march was for a just cause” but yet you choose to twist what I wrote and meant.  By accident?

      My point was how far and for what causes will walkouts be excused?  Is your party losing a presidential election considered a permissable cause?  It can be a slippery slope.

  4. Alan Miller

    For a lot of parents, the unexcused absence was not a big deal, she said.  “But bringing it up sent a message.  It sent message that hey kids… I guess we have to let you protest because it’s your right, but we wish you wouldn’t so here’s an unexcused absence.”

    Actions have consequences.  I say that, agreeing with the above statement that I quoted, because kids learning civic protest need to take the hit as well, and thus the unexcused absence.  Otherwise, they become the spoiled-brat protesters who do outrageous things and then whine when they get arrested — which hurts their cause and make them look like babies.  The 60’s anti-war protestors and those squatting in redwoods didn’t whine about getting arrested, it was part of the protest.

    Having said that, I’ve heard way-more-conservative types than I use the same phrase I used, “actions have consequences” to justify Linda Katehi’s Pepper Spray approach.  Not the same, not by a mile.  Violence by authority is not a reasonable consequence to peaceful protest.

    So, high school protestors, bravo for walking out.  Take your unexcused absence and wear it with a badge of honor.  You are brave and now have an imperfect attendance record.  I think you’ll live, school with start at the usual time tomorrow, and the sun will rise in the east.

    Those complaining about the students getting docked:  you are not helping anyone.

    1. Tia Will


      you are not helping anyone.”
      I do not know who you think needs “help here”. The kids did the right thing to walk out. My understanding is that the district has the ability to sanction absences or not. If this is not directly against district policy then I think the administration came down on the wrong side. If there is no allowance for special observances, then I think they did the right thing. It seems that some districts, such as the one my daughter teaches in were in full support of the students and all grades participated. I do not see that rebelliousness for its own sake confers special value. I know I would have appreciated it if the teachers, administration and other adults in general would have been more supportive in my time as a Viet Nam war protestor, although I certainly did not whine about it.

  5. Todd Edelman

    Alan said

    The 60’s anti-war protestors and those squatting in redwoods didn’t whine about getting arrested, it was part of the protest.

    The point is not the protest, but changing the law, regulations, corporate hegemony, etc. The DJUSD should have supported the initiative 100% to take a stand against – to defend itself against – what I amusingly yet accurately refer to as – the Civilian Light Arms Industrial Complex by allowing all administrators, teachers, staff, and students to walk out together as a Mass Field Trip for Human Rights and Safety. It should have been led by students, and perhaps students could vote school-by-school to participate or not.
    So again, the protest would ideally be the DJUSD against the system – the entity I describe above – and not only is there nothing wrong with that, it’s would be a diamond in our failed democracy. If this was illegal in some State of California context, I accept that the superintendent could get “docked”.  (Of course the buck stops with the Universe, which is not neutral and supports the Davis youth leaders who took a more mature approach in this matter than their supposedly adult minders during the school day and the school term).

  6. H Jackson

    I have two opinions about this.

    On the one hand, I am certain that school safety must be a priority goal for the district.  I saw this in part as a walkout for school safety.  Individuals may attach whatever meaning they bring to what school safety means to them — for some maybe it means more SROs and/or arming teachers; for others maybe it means tighter background checks and banning assault rifles; for others, maybe there are other views on the issue.  The district could have justified the walkout as an expression of support for school safety, which is a stated priority of the district, even in remembering the lives of the 17 students and adults who were killed.

    On the other hand, the district is in the process of approving a contract with the DTA for increases in teacher compensation.  I am certain that the district is counting on some increased revenue from improving student attendance, which brings in more revenue.  DJUSD is one district that can little afford the luxury of losing ADA money at this time.

    I think they’re in a ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ scenario, depending on who you are and what your views are.

  7. Jim Frame

    Repeating what I wrote on David’s FB page:

    I agree that the District acted appropriately in accordance with its in loco parentis role as well as from a liability standpoint.  Further, had the District authorities sanctioned the event, even casually, they would have disempowered the student effort.  The disciplinary result of a single unexcused absence is trivial, but the life lesson for the students — that they have the power, and even the obligation, to break the rules in pursuit of principle, even when it results in a penalty — is extremely valuable.

  8. Cindy Pickett

    What’s interesting is that all schools have an in loco parentis role and yet some districts told students that they would be suspended for participating and others told students that there would no consequences.

    What I like about the comments here is that everyone is emphasizing the importance of civil disobedience. My only question is whether that is the same message that the district sent to students. Is that what students heard? Or did they hear that the district values obedience and “playing by the rules.”

    I would love to believe that the district’s stance was an intentional attempt to appear stern so that students would feel empowered during the walkout and that the district administration shares the goal of making this a meaningful learning experience for students.

  9. WesC

    For those worried that any disciplinary consequences of this walk out may adversely affect their college admission prospects I think a college admission essay topic of “Why I was suspended for fighting the NRA” will look better than one on “How soccer made me a team player”

  10. Ken A

    Most state schools and junior colleges don’t really care if you were suspended for months on end as long as you graduated, but selective schools have always looked into this.

    A two second Google search found the site below that says “the vast majority of colleges and universities use disciplinary records to help determine whether to accept or reject a student’s application”


    There is nothing stopping the kids that want to protest from doing it every day before and after school (and on weekends).  With only aboout ~185 school days a year there is plenty of other days to protest.


    1. David Greenwald

      “There is nothing stopping the kids that want to protest from doing it every day before and after school (and on weekends). ”


      An unexcused absence isn’t going to show up on a disciplinary record

  11. Michelle Millet

    From the mouth of my 8th grader, “I didn’t want the district to give us permission.  I wanted the unexcused absense and I wanted to take the consequences that came with it. That’s what made what I was doing meaningful”.

    From my vantage point as a parent and an educator I thought district got this one right.


    1. Cindy Pickett

      A student defying the district’s rules is one form of protest, but as Todd mentioned above,

      “…the protest would ideally be the DJUSD against the system”

      Think about the message we could have sent if we’d all worked together. Think about how much more meaningful it could have been. The world of a student is fairly small. They see the school and the district as “the system.” But the real system is the one that’s allowing guns to be so readily available to anyone who wants one.

  12. David Greenwald

    Food for thought

    Martin Luther King Jr: “If you confront a man who has been cruelly misusing you, and say “Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and just weapon”

    1. Howard P

      So, are David and Tia saying DJUSD is, a ‘man’ “… who has been cruelly misusing…” students, or are “the abuser”, respectively?

      I didn’t say anything on David’ s post, as I thought he was thinking of, the concept of, ‘punish me, if you will, I feel I don’t deserve it, but I will accept it as I was acting out of conscience, a sign of civil disobedience, to let the world know how important this issue is to me’. A concept I agree with…

      Given Tia’s response, I am completely unclear as to the point they were ‘making…’

      Tia and David… clarity would be appreciated…

  13. Tia Will

    I like the quote, but feel it is even more powerful if the abuser sees the error of his ways, joins you in your quest for justice and encourages others to do the same.

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