Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Student Rights Overview
Ask a Civil Rights Lawyer for Legal Advice
Student rights are an important part of the makeup of our society. However many students and even educators are unaware of the specifics of these rights. When students' rights are violated, it is important to take action to prevent the violation from recurring and to ensure that the student receives the compensation they deserve. In 1969, the Supreme Court made it clear that students have the same constitutional rights in an academic setting as they do outside of that setting. However, many educators and school administrators have habitually not made this the standard of treatment for their students. Not only do issues regarding student rights occur in public schools, but colleges, universities, and other educational institutions are also held to the same law regarding student rights.
If you suspect that you or your child’s rights as a student have been violated, seek legal counsel from a civil rights attorney to discover what your options are and what action you can take. It’s a good idea to retain any piece of clothing or record any phrase as well as documenting any corrective actions taken by that institution for a civil rights attorney to evaluate. It’s important to remember that students have access to the same constitutional rights inside school as they do outside of school.
There are a wide variety of basic student rights that often go overlooked in academic settings. Some of these are relatively easy to assume, while others might be surprising. It’s important to remember that constitutional rights are not altered by entering a school building. The only main difference between a student’s rights inside and outside of school is that minors are required to attend school in some form, and could be considered truant if they decide to skip school for multiple days, even for a reason such as participating in a walkout. Before choosing not to go to school, research your institution’s stance on unexcused absences as well as your state’s penalties for truancy.
Let’s go over some basic student rights:
- Free speech: This goes for what you say while in school and outside of school. For example, your school cannot hold you accountable for something you said on social media. While a school may take action if they feel that a student’s speech or behavior is truly disruptive, they cannot punish a student for making statements they simply don’t agree with. Similarly, public schools cannot prohibit a specific type of clothing based on a logo, phrase, or image expressed on that clothing.
- Dress code: Schools are allowed to have and force dress codes, but those dress codes cannot include forcing students to dress differently based on their gender or gender stereotypes. Additionally, dress code enforcement must occur equally across all genders; if a girl is not allowed to wear a tank top to school, neither is a boy. The types of clothing available to and enforcement of dress codes must be the same across the board.
- Immigrant student rights: No academic institution is allowed to discriminate against a student on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Additionally, undocumented students have the same right to public education as every other student. Schools are not allowed to require families to prove their immigration status in order to enroll their child in public school. Similarly, non-English speaking students cannot be turned away from school, but must receive English language instruction in addition to the standard courses.
- Student disability rights: Students with disability are required by law to be offered the same access to academic opportunities and experiences as every other student. Additionally, school administrators and educators are required to make necessary accommodations to ensure an equal chance of success for students with disabilities, and must immediately address any instances of bullying or harassment.
- LGBTQ student rights: Academic employees are not allowed to discuss a student’s LGBTQ status with the student’s family and are required to address and monitor any harassment which might be occurring within their institution as a result of that status. Public schools cannot require students dress outside of their gender identity. LGBTQ themed clubs must be just as allowed as other clubs. Additionally, a student’s transgender status and/or gender assigned at birth are confidential pieces of information that cannot be shared. Depending on your state, there might be rules in place to protect the choice of transgender students to use the bathroom/locker rooms where they feel comfortable.
- Pregnancy: Public schools in addition to any academic institutions which receive federal funds are not allowed to discriminate against pregnant or parenting students. It is illegal for the school to pressure a pregnant or parenting student to drop out or change schools, and the same accommodations that would be made for another student with a medical condition are required to be offered to pregnant students; these accommodations include allowing the student to make up missed classwork, attend doctor’s appointments, and take time off for recovery after childbirth. It is also illegal for any school to reveal a student’s private medical information.
- Law enforcement rights: It’s important to remember to stay calm and cooperate if you are approached by a police officer at school. Ask if you are free to leave, and if they reply that you are, you can then walk away calmly and silently. If an officer asks you a question, you have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to refuse to write and/or sign a statement. It is highly recommended to wait to speak with police until an attorney or legal guardian is present.
- Search rights: You can refuse to consent to have your property searched; however, the police may choose to do so anyway. It’s important to note that the fact of refusal is what will be important in court. It’s also important to remember that neither the police nor any school employee have the right to search your phone or conduct a strip-search without a warrant.
- Freedom of religion: This right is still hotly debated within public school settings, but it is generally accepted that students should be allowed to practice their religion within an academic setting regardless of what the religion is as long as it does not cause harm to another student or faculty member.
If you or your student experienced a violation of student rights at school, seek legal counsel from a civil rights attorney to discuss your options.