Thousands of students to serve punishments for participating in the National School Walkout

Posted at 6:02 AM, Mar 16, 2018

Amariah Matos wasn't happy.

She was told that when class let out Thursday, she'd have to spend three extra hours in school -- serving detention.

She'd have to do that again Friday and on Monday.

RELATED: National Walkout Day 2018 photos from around the US

That's the price 16-year-old Amariah and 35 others at Lindenhurst High in New York were told they'd paying for walking out of class during the National School Walkout on Wednesday.

In her case, a last-minute request from the New York governor spurred school administrators to wipe the punishment off their slates.



But across the country, students faced a similar reality for their bout of activism.

South Carolina's largest school district said it'd reprimand about 530 students for cutting class. More than 200 students in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will serve Saturday detentions. And in Georgia's Cobb County, students were told they could face up to five days' suspension.

"Obviously those that walked, accepted that. Those that didn't, could not accept those consequences," said Rich Pellegrino with the Cobb County branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The group said it's standing by with legal resources to help students who feel they were punished unfairly.

Punishments vary

Amariah says she was initially suspended for three days. The school district then downgraded it to three days' detention. Then it canceled it altogether.

"Out of respect to the Governor's wishes, the administration has made the decision to absolve the students of the determined disciplinary action, and as such they will not be required to attend extended detention," said school Principal Clinton Grant on Thursday afternoon.

In Kansas City, student Riley Peak and his fellow students were given a choice.

The staff at Park Hill High told them they could either attend a half-hour detention after school next week or have a disciplinary meeting after spring break. Riley chose the latter, he said.

"I chose to do the disciplinary meeting because they have a lot of students that participated in the walkout," he told CNN affiliate WDAF. "I figured if they want to track me down to punish me for expressing my First Amendment right, then they have the right to do so." And he's right.

Little legal recourse

As long as the consequences don't exceed what would be typical for an infraction equivalent to cutting class, schools can discipline students, says the ACLU.

Josh Bell, an ACLU spokesman, said the organization is in the process of vetting reports from students on whether anyone has been handed an excessive punishment.

In Riley's case, it wasn't, his school says.

Jeanette Cowherd, the superintendent of the Park Hill school district, told CNN that students were receiving what would amount to a verbal warning, a punishment in line with those outlined in the district's student-parent handbook.

Protesting in their place

Another school district that made the news for taking a strict stance was Georgia's Cobb County. The metro Atlanta school district told its students they would be "subject to consequences" for walking out.

So, on Wednesday, a lot of parents protested in their place.

They held signs reading "Student Will Change Congress" and "Children Over Guns."

Pellegrino of the Cobb County SCLC branch said the group would write letters of recommendations to colleges on behalf of the students who participated.

But for students whose punishment is reasonable and allowed within their school district, "there's nothing legally that they can do about it."

Doing it again

Students like Amariah recognize that.

Asked if she would walk out again knowing she'd be hit with detention, she told CNN, "Without a doubt."

"This is something that means more to me than punishment."

™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.