Student’s Rights

— What are my rights as a student? —

Do students have the right to freedom of expression in school?
Yes. Under the Tinker standard, students have the right to freedom of expression as long as they do not “materially and substantially” disrupt the operation of the school or violate the rights of others.

Can students say or publish anything they want in school?
No. Student’s First Amendment rights are not absolute. For example, hurtful lies about people cannot be said or published. The law is also different when a student’s speech is “school sponsored”, as in a school newspaper or play.

Can students hold demonstrations or other forms of protest during the school day?
Yes. School officials cannot stop a demonstration simply because they don’t like its message.

Can schools ban religious or other clubs which might be considered controversial?
No. Since congress passed the Equal Access Act in 1984 it is unlawful for school authorities to bar certain student-initiated groups from meeting after school if school facilities are available to other student-run groups.

Can school officials search my belongings?
Sometimes. Outside the school, law enforcement officers need to obtain a warrant from a magistrate before they can conduct a search.

Are drug tests legal in schools?
Yes. The US Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory drug tests are constitutional for after-school sports and other extra-curricular activities.

Can students be punished at school for something they did off-campus?
Sometimes. Only if it affects their behavior at school in a way that endangers them or others, if it took place during a school-sponsored field trip or sports activity, or if it occurred near the school. In Colorado, any illegal activity is considered endangering others in school.

Can school officials regulate the way I look?
Sometimes. Courts have not yet ruled on uniforms in public schools, but it seems that schools may make such a rule. Many states, however, have laws that say that students’ hair length may not be regulated and that only clothing that causes a disruption may be regulated.

Can school officials ban message clothing?
Yes. Schools can ban messages they regard as indecent, lewd, profane, or vulgar.

Can teachers make me take off my hat?
Yes. Courts have been reluctant to interfere with regulations barring hats in schools or classrooms.

Is physical punishment at school legal?
Yes. The Supreme Court upheld the use of corporal punishment in schools when it decided Ingraham v. Wright in 1977. However, about 20 states have made corporal punishment illegal.

— Are Your Rights Being Violated? —

  • Research several locations to see if your conduct is legal. Often, state laws are different than national laws, and district laws may be different than both. A student handbook can be the most effective way to find out.
  • If your conduct should be legal, draw attention to the issue by informing your principal of why it should be legal. This almost always resolves the issue.
  • If your principal does not agree, talk to higher administrators. It may also be helpful to get advice from a local group, such as the American Civil Liberties Union or the National Lawyers Guild.
  • If you still think restriction of your activity is unjust, you may choose to continue to do it. This is a form of civil disobedience and has some consequences. You should find out what these are ahead of time, and plan accordingly.
  • If you still disagree with the restriction of your activity, or if you disagree with a national, state, or district law, you may choose to hire a lawyer and take your case to court. If you don’t win your case at a local or state level, you may appeal, and many appeals would be required to reach the Supreme Court. Also be aware that The Supreme Court often rejects cases it feels should be handled at the state level or that have a precedent in a former Supreme Court case. However, as demonstrated by the many existing Supreme Court cases on student rights, changes do happen, and it is possible to make a difference.

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One Response to “Student’s Rights”

  1. Colby

    Woo Hoo! Great website. Fight the power, destroy the establishment, know your rights! Don’t let the government oppress you!

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