High school students in Des Moines, Iowa, walk out of class in a demonstration against anti-trans legislation. Photo courtesy Phil Roeder.

Students in several Nebraska high schools are planning walkouts in protest of anti-trans bills in the Nebraska Legislature. Similar walkouts have happened and will happen in states across the nation this spring — a national show of solidarity in response to the record amount of state legislation impacting trans youth.

Ahead of the walkouts, we sent letters to Nebraska school district leaders. We are publishing that information here so that it is accessible to anyone who needs it. The bottom line is this: we encourage all school officials to support their students in exercising their right to civically engage.

March 30, 2023
Re:  Open Letter to Nebraska School Leaders on Student Walkouts

Dear Superintendents and Principals,

Our schools are often the first place where Nebraska youth learn how to civically engage, express their own ideas, and develop their social and political values. This week, in an expression of those values and civic engagement, students across Nebraska may leave their classrooms in support of transgender Nebraskans.

Last week, the Nebraska Legislature voted to advance LB 574, which would take away the freedom of families of transgender youth to seek critical health care. This bill is an attack on trans youth and directly affects life-saving health care for students in your schools. The ongoing debate in the Nebraska Legislature has engaged many young people who seek to use their voice and exercise their right to civically engage.

On behalf of the ACLU of Nebraska, we urge you to support your students in the exercise of that right. Demonstration and protest have long been a means of political expression and for participants to find coalition and support. We understand that this may distract from regular classroom activity, but as a reminder, students cannot be disciplined more harshly for politically motivated conduct than for similar non-political behavior. Further, students cannot be considered disruptive for wearing t-shirts, armbands, or other clothes or accessories that bear viewpoints — or face discipline as a result — just because someone may disagree with that view.

We also urge you to exercise discretion if a student misses a day or class period for a peaceful demonstration. Nebraska state law encourages alternatives to suspension or expulsion whenever possible for a student who is truant, tardy or absent. Policies regarding absenteeism should not be used to punish students who are engaged in democratic participation, especially when the issues at stake directly affect their health and safety.

For many of our young people who cannot yet vote, peaceful demonstration is one of the most powerful means to show their civic engagement. As a school leader, we urge you to share in that value. Thank you for your leadership and the ACLU is happy to serve as a resource to you, your students, parents, and teachers to ensure a safe learning experience for all.

Jane Seu
Legal & Policy Counsel
ACLU of Nebraska



Do I have the right to hold a rally or demonstration at school?

A.Do I have the right to hold a rally or demonstration at school?


Yes. Peaceful demonstrations are considered protected speech so a school is not allowed to prohibit them unless they disrupt school activities. School authorities cannot prevent students from participating in a demonstration that is off campus or after school hours.

Do I have the right to walk out of school as a form of protest?

A.Do I have the right to walk out of school as a form of protest?


Regular school attendance by a student is required in Nebraska. The school can take action against you if you miss school and the absence is unexcused, even if you are participating in a political activity. However, school officials cannot punish you for missing school to participate in a protest more harshly than they punish students for missing school for any other purpose.

How else I can express my opinions and beliefs in school?

A.How else I can express my opinions and beliefs in school?


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students can express their opinions vocally and in writing as long as they do not disrupt or interfere with school activities. School officials can probably stop you from using language that they think is “vulgar or indecent.” But other activities, such as wearing a shirt that says “Trans Nebraskans belong,” are protected under the First Amendment.

What are my general protest rights?

A.What are my general protest rights?

  • Your rights are strongest in traditional public forums, such as streets, sidewalks, and parks. You don’t need a permit to march on sidewalks or to gather in public spaces like parks, generally. However, you may need a permit depending on your city’s ordinances and it would be best to check with city officials or legal counsel about permit requirements prior to any event. A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial or will express unpopular views. You have the right to speak out on other public property - such as public sidewalks in front of school - as long as you are not blocking access to the building or interfering with the purpose the property was designed for.
  • Private property owners can set rules for speech on their property. The government may not restrict your speech if it is taking place on your own property or with the consent of the property owner.
  • Counterprotesters also have free speech rights. Police must treat protesters and counterprotesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.
  • When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to photograph anything in plain view, including the police. On private property, the owner may set rules related to photography or video.
  • If you’re stopped by police while protesting, stay calm. Make sure to keep your hands visible. Don’t argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you believe they are violating your rights. Point out that you are not disrupting anyone else’s activity and that the First Amendment protects your actions. Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly walk away.

  • If you are under arrest, you have a right to ask why. Otherwise, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say anything or sign anything without a lawyer. You have the right to make a local phone call, and if you’re calling your lawyer, police are not allowed to listen. You never have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. If you consent, it can affect you later in court.

  • Police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon and may search you after an arrest. Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.

  • If you believe your rights have been violated by an officer, when you can, write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for. Get contact information for witnesses and take photographs of any injuries. Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.

What happens if police issue an order to disperse a protest?

A.What happens if police issue an order to disperse a protest?


Shutting down a protest through a dispersal order must be law enforcement’s last resort. Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety. If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path. Individuals must receive clear and detailed notice of a dispersal order, including how much time they have to disperse, the consequences of failing to disperse, and what clear exit route they can follow, before they may be arrested or charged with any crime.




This resource is general know your rights information for students enrolled in public schools participating in walkouts on public property. This guide does not entitle you to legal advice from the ACLU of Nebraska and is not an offer by the ACLU of Nebraska to represent you as your attorneys. Please contact local city or school officials, your attorney, or the ACLU of Nebraska for more information. For information on how to request legal assistance, visit aclunebraska.org/gethelp.