Board to Look at Discipline Policies Stemming from Student Walk Out

Signs outside of the school at Parkland, the site of a February 14 massacre that left 17 students dead.

DJUSD attracted regional attention when the Sacramento Bee back in mid-March ran a story, “This district in a liberal California city marked down the names of student protesters.”

Board member Madhavi Sunder requested the board to examine its policy, telling her colleagues in a prepared statement on March 15, “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.”

Superintendent John Bowes noted that, while the students across the district took part in the walkouts and did so in an “orderly, calm, peaceful and respectful” manner, their conduct was subject to discipline.

He stated 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.’”

The board will now examine two policies related to student disturbances.

Administrative Regulation 5131.4 states that students involved in prohibited activities shall be subject to discipline.  These including “disturbing the peace” and “disrupting school operations.”

This also includes “exercising free expression which … so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school (Ed Code 48907).”

Examples include:

  1. Organizing or participating in unauthorized assemblies on school premises
  2. Participating in sit-ins or stand-ins which deny students or employees normal access to school premises

Board Policy 5131.4 states: “The Board of Education desires to provide orderly campuses that create a positive school environment and are conducive to learning. When students initiate or are involved in a campus disturbance that has the potential to threaten the safety of students or staff, the Superintendent or designee may request law enforcement assistance.”

This includes CF 5145.2 on Freedom of Speech/Expression.  “Students who participate in a campus disturbance shall be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with Board policy and administrative regulations.”

There has been a good deal of feedback from the community about the walk out.

At the last board meeting, Superintendent Bowes noted that 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.

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?”

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 above 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.”

At this point there is no staff recommendation for action, the board will simply review and discuss board policy as it relates to 5131.4.

—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. Tia Will

    “other unauthorized reasons would be considered ‘unexcused.’”

    This begs the question of whether this particular observance should have been excused. It was known for weeks that it was going to occur. Honoring victims & pleas to decrease gun related injuries in our schools should not be considered partisan. Republican students die as readily as do Democrats. A proactive administration could easily have authorized this particular 17 minute “disruption” as a respectful observance of those who lost their lives regardless of political stance of parents on either side. This is indeed exactly what did occur at many sites. Is 17 minutes on one day really not worth the remembrance of 17 lives?

    1. Joel Shandling

      Deaths from rifles are numerically trivial. In a nation of 300 million there a lot of deaths everyday and many of them are under unfortunate and unnecessary. We can all agree that Parkland was horrible and bad, but what about drunk driving? It’s far deadlier and a much greater risk to teens. Does it not make sense to ban alcohol to prevent the horrible tragedies that it leads to everyday? Of course it doesn’t. We accept the evils of legal alcohol because it is preferable to trying to prohibit something that is in high demand and easy enough to produce illicitly, however nice it would be if we could wish it away.

      These protests are blatant political attacks on the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment guarantees the First Amendment and the Third Amendment (quartering troops). As we have seen in imperialist resistance movements all over the world (e.g. Afghanistan, Vietnam), a populace armed with rifles is fully capable of resisting even the most powerful, well armed, technologically advanced invaders.

      I trust my friends, neighbors, and community members far more than distant unaccountable politicians paid for by big money interests. These school protests are ideologically motivated. If students want to participate they should do so on their own conscience and accept the consequences, as is the standard for all protestors of conscience.

      The schools have no business ordaining what students are permitted to protest.

      1. Howard P

        These school protests are ideologically motivated. If students want to participate they should do so on their own conscience and accept the consequences, as is the standard for all protestors of conscience.


        Sidebar:  guns are not the problem… ammunition is… if we banned/controlled the uber ammunition clips (who needs 20 round clips… would also say 10, but the Sac case shows that even ‘trained professionals’ can miss their target, at short distances, 60% of the time); who needs automatic rifles; who needs hundreds of rounds in their home… guns don’t kill people… ammunition does.  Thought I read somewhere that Isreal focuses on possession of ammunition… regulates that heavily.

        MH/emotional stability is the major common factor in the large scale tragedies we’ve experienced… large clips/magazines, automatic weapons, come in a distant second… ‘normal guns’, a far distant third.

      2. Tia Will

        I trust my friends, neighbors, and community members far more than distant unaccountable politicians paid for by big money interests.”

        Oh the ironies.

        1. I think the victims of every gun assisted massacre felt the same way. They were wrong.

        2. Paid for by big money interests: Like the NRA ?

        3. As for the second amendment, even the self proclaimed originalist, Scalia, stated that the 2nd Amendment had limitations and that gun ownership was not without the possibility of regulation. There are many 2A compliant measures that could be taken to lessen the risk of gun injury.

        4. Acceptance of consequences: They are accepting them as they have no choice. And they are criticizing the board action and advocating for change as is also their right.

  2. Tia Will


    When other students plan walkouts for things like pro-life will you be so supportive?”

    I think you know my answer to that, but I will take it as an honest question.


    If I support the Westboro Baptist Church members right to free speech as I have many times here on the Vanguard, do you honestly think that I wouldn’t support a similarly timed, respectful pro birth vigil?


      1. Tia Will

        More power to him. I believe in allowing our students to express their ideas in brief observances that are voluntary and not disruptive of other students learning. These should be planned far enough in advance as to be done safely and in a manner which is respectful of the opinions of others. No bullying, no shock value pictures, and no intimidation just as was done at the 17 minute observations.

        1. Alan Miller

          >I believe in allowing our students to express their ideas in brief observances that are voluntary and not disruptive of other students learning.

          As do I, but they should take the “hit”.  It’s all part of the protest THING.  No respect for people who engage in civil disobedience and then whine when they get arrested.  It’s all part of the protest THING.

        2. Ken A

          Most kids today are a lot different than the protestors of the past that ran through fire hoses, tear gas and rubber bullets to protest.  Today kids want a “safe space” to protest and will go crazy if the mean schools give them so much as a “tardy” for protesting…

        3. David Greenwald

          Depends on the protester.  But I will point out that speech is not free if there are consequences attached to them and schools are government entities.

  3. Tia Will


    I hope you are having fun entertaining yourself. I have answered you. The answer will be the same regardless of topic/political spectrum as long as the protests are done respectfully, without intimidation, shock value pictures, or disparagement of others.

    Now, can you say the same if a group organizes a vigil for the lives of women lost because they were denied abortions, those pregnant only because of access to effective contraception due to lack of health care,  those of foreigners bombed in our never ending wars, mass incarceration, students “taking a knee” with the athletes at sporting events ?

    See, we could play this game all day. But of the two of us, I am the only one who has clearly stated that I consider the 1st Amendment, not the politics of the participants to be the deciding factor.

    1. Keith O

      Good, then we can all look forward to students walking out of class on a regular basis for this cause or that and we will all support their efforts.

  4. David Greenwald

    I support student’s rights to free speech whether I agree or disagree with them.  Freedom of speech means little when you agree with the message.  I’m sure North Korea will allow its citizens to praise the government all day – that’s not the test of free speech.

    The next question is – should there be a consequence for leaving class?  I think that’s a more difficult one that the board will wrestle with.

    1. Ken A

      Like David “I support student’s rights to free speech whether I agree or disagree with them” but we need to remember that most school districts are not like Davis where so many kids graduate and go to college.  Letting kids out of class to protest means less time in class.  It is also important to remember that most kids in High School are still “children” and are actually required by law to be in school (and most schools are run more like North Korea with a dictator telling everyone what to do and students having little to no input on who runs the school or how the school is run) .  I’m wondering if the people that support “consequence free” protesting for High School kids would also support “consequence free” protesting for High School “teachers” and/or “bus drivers”…

      1. Tia Will

        With regard to overall educational impact or monetary impact on schools:

        1. We are talking about one, nationwide, 17 minute observance – one minute for each life lost, one time since the student organized protests against Viet Nam.

        2. If the district was concerned about monetary loss, highly doubtful, they could have declared this an optional school sponsored event as thousands of other schools did. My daughter’s school and an adjacent school coordinated activities and teachers used it as an educational event about civil rights.


  5. H Jackson

    When students are not in class, then the district is liable to lose money from the state (called ADA or Average Daily Attendance).  If the district is obligated to approve every proposed walkout that comes its way, how much money can the district afford to lose?

    I understand that the recent contract with DTA was agreed upon with an assumption that the district would acquire funds for the raise by improving ADA.

    If the district adopts a looser policy of excusing absences for every protest that may come along, then it risks losing ADA and looking financially irresponsible.

    As it is, I think ADA has been lower this year because of a harsh flu season.

  6. Cindy Pickett

    Hiram – What some parents are advocating for is allowing students time for civic engagement that would be considered educational and not result in an absence or loss of ADA dollars. Below is the petition that has been going around. It is very general in terms of what is meant by civic engagement, but the idea is that this could be an alternative to a walkout where there are those negative consequences both for the students and the district.


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