Protests continued at Hazelwood West High School after students say they received a punishment that was too severe.

It all stems from an incident on Monday. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of students walked out of class in support of the district’s teachers. The teachers had been presented a contract that they said was unfair.

As a result of the walkout, the district gave students five-day suspensions. Also, high school seniors were told they could not participate in the graduation ceremony this weekend.

“Four years of high school, never skipped a class in my life. I walk out of school in an hour and they take away the walking, that’s what hurts the most,” said Jonathan Rooney, a Hazelwood West High School senior.

Wednesday evening, dozens of parents, students and pastors gathered at the Ward Chapel for a community meeting. They wanted to find strategies to fight the district’s punishment. Some parents say they are exploring legal action.

“We need this reversed. We only have two days before the seniors graduate. And we are fighting our hardest. It’s not right. It’s definitely not ok,” said Jonel Harris, a sophomore at Hazelwood West, who said he was suspended for participating in the walkout.

The Hazelwood School District released a statement on Tuesday, but no further comment on Wednesday. Five On Your Side also reached out to every school board member in the district; nobody would provide a comment.

The ACLU issued another statement today:

ACLU of Missouri Statement on Free Speech Rights of Hazelwood Students

Hazelwood School District’s decision to retaliate against its students for their peaceful expressive activity is unacceptable and violates their First Amendment and due process rights.

We are concerned with the district’s lack of transparency and failure to publicly explain its decision – especially after students in the past were not punished for exercising their freedom of speech on matters that did not involve school board decisions.

The ACLU of Missouri has contacted the district in hopes the administration will do the right thing and allow the seniors to participate in graduation ceremonies, fulfill their academic obligations and not potentially lose their hard-earned scholarships because of the district’s decision. We are actively preparing legal options if the district continues to jeopardize the students’ futures.

– Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director, ACLU of Missouri