In the week following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, many high schools saw activist students walking out of classes to protest the election results. Between 1,500 and 2,000 students walked off the campus of Berkeley High School in California on Nov. 9. Students at high schools in Seattle, Arizona, and Colorado did the same.

Although some administrators were prepared for the walkouts and demonstrations, others were not. For those individuals, we offer the following tips.

Understand that students have the right to free speech, too

Students do have the right to protest within school grounds, but it’s a little different inside the school building itself. If the protest is disruptive to the learning process, administrators do have the right to discipline students.

School administrators also need to treat all speech equally. Whether the students are pro-Trump or anti-Trump, they have the same right to voice their opinions under the same guidelines.

Lee Rowland, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, says “Schools may not discipline students for expressing a particular viewpoint, unless and until that viewpoint crosses the line into bullying or creating a hostile environment for another student.”

Students need to understand the rules and consequences

Although students have the right to free speech, walkouts can have disciplinary consequences. Often, walkouts are viewed as unexcused absences, and in those cases, schools may have rules that forbid students to make up work for those absences.

If you find out that student protests, including walkouts, are being planned, be sure to remind them of school rules around unexcused absences. Help them to understand that although you appreciate their civic engagement and desire to make their voices heard, there will be consequences that may make a difference in their academic careers.

Make space for all opinions

Some schools’ populations are deeply divided down pro-Trump and anti-Trump lines. It’s important to ensure that students have a way to engage in physically, cognitively and emotionally safe discussion around the issues. They need to be able to talk about their emotions without being “policed,” but in a way that doesn’t descend into bullying and threatening.

Turn student protests into a teachable moment

After the walkout at West Seattle High, Principal Ruth Medsker allowed a student-led discussion before the students went back to class. She told the students that the election results were part of a long-standing democratic process. She also said that as future leaders, it was positive that they were getting involved and were getting the feeling that they could influence issues.

“If we teach our students how to use their knowledge to effectively impact their world, we will all be in a better place,” Medsker told U.S. News

What about your school? Did you have student protests or walkouts? How are you handling the division between pro-Trump and anti-Trump students in your school? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald /