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Student Rights

by webmaster last modified 2007-12-08 09:54 PM

Youth Rights in General

Two resources are helpful in understanding youth rights in general--the web site of the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) and Laws Regarding Children.

General Information on Student Rights

The subject of student rights these days spans a wide range of topics, including free speech/expression, freedom of religion, drug testing, due process, zero tolerance and off-campus conduct, to name a few. Students in school do not have the same rights they might have outside of school thanks to what's known as in loco parentis, which means that while students are in school, the school acts in effect as their "substitute parents." This is explained further here.

Two excellent places to start for information on student rights are the ACLU Student Rights Web Page and the ACLU of Washington Student Rights Page.

More on student rights from the FreeChild Project and the Illinois First Amendment Center

CO-STAR is an organization that works to protect the rights of students at colleges and universities.

Abuses of Student Rights

There are many recent cases where student rights have likely been violated--examples include students punished or discriminated against for blue, purple, pink and red hair, a hidden camera in the nurse's station at an elementary school, seven female students strip-searched in Arkansas, students punished for not wearing a belt in Louisiana, for snorting Kool-Aid in Virginia and for hugging in Minnesota, Illinois and Alabama, and even a 15-year old girl suspended in Oklahama for casting a magic spell (no kidding!) and a California boy suspended for talking about making a "plastic hydrogen bomb" for a science fair project.

So-called "zero tolerance" policies can be carried too far--a good 1999 article on this can be found here. and a more recent 2002 article is located here. Three extreme examples of this are kindergartners suspended for playing cops and robbers during recess, a first-grader punished for a bag of dirt that school authorities mistakenly thought looked like a bag of "weed", a third grader suspended over a fortune cookie message and a girl suspended for making a list of people she was "frustrated with." Zero tolerance policies are no laughing matter, especially when carried to extremes.  An excellent site on zero tolerance with many examples and much useful information (including case law) can be found at

Public school students have some privacy rights--for example, regarding strip searches and hidden cameras.   A particularly disturbing violation of students rights was the November 2003 search of 107 students for drugs in a South Carolina high school by police with their guns drawn (no drugs were found).  A lawsuit was filed by 17 of the students, and in mid-2006 a class-action settlement was reached for $1.6M, including $400,000 in attorney's fees and $1.2M to be divided among the afffected students.

Students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are often the target of dicsrimination or harassment in the school environment.  An excellent summary of many of the legal issues surrounding these students has been prepared by the National Association of School Boards.

Students deserve fair treatment--all adults enjoy what are known as "due process" rights, which include the presumption of innocence, the right to know what you've been accused of and what evidence exists, the right to have rules/regulations that clearly and unambiguously spell out proscribed behavior, the right to be judged impartially, the right to speak in one's own defense and the right to appeal an unfavorable decision. Brown University has clearly spelled out the due process rights of its students.

Other Pages on This Site Dealing With Students and Student Rights:

Local Issues --Six of these issues in Hollis/Brookline, NH relate to students in various ways.

Free Speech --Includes a section on student free speech rights.

Student Computer Use --Focuses on student off-campus computer use, a hot issue these days.

Student Rights in Private Schools --Addresses the rights of students in private schools.

Equal Access Act --The rights of public school students to form clubs and have equal access to school facilities and resources.

PPRA and FERPA --Two federal laws covering potentially intrusive public school surveys and student records at public schools and most colleges/universities.


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