Youth & Student Rights

"In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are 'persons' under our Constitution."
[Students do not] “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
-- Justice Abe Fortas,
Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969

Violations of the constitutional rights of students are far too common in public schools across the country. Articles about controversial subjects written for student newspapers are censored. Lockers, back packs and even students, through increased use of drug testing, are searched without reasonable suspicion. Female students are excluded from certain extracurricular activities, and gay students are intimidated into silence.

The Constitution protects specific individual rights like freedom of speech, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion from intrusion by the government. The Constitution does not place age requirements on these freedoms. Despite the court rulings that have limited student rights, the ACLU believes that all individuals, including young people, should enjoy these basic rights.
Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for the students that is conducive to learning. They also have a responsibility to respect each student's individual rights. These two missions are not incompatible. Young people have rights too!

The ACLU works to ensure that young people are educated about the Bill of Rights and that their rights to freedom of speech and fair treatment by government are respected. We support constructive alternatives to efforts that target youth as a group in need of severe measures that restrict civil liberties.

Are you a youth looking for more information about your rights? Please visit our "Just for Youth" section for information and resources.

Litigation

I [Heart] Boobies

Student Challenges Ban on Wearing “I ♥ Boobies” Cancer Awareness Bracelets

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Nakashima v. Board of Education

Student Athletes Prevail in Religious Discrimination Case Against OSAA

On August 18, 2010, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Oregon School Activities Association to pay $66,230 in attorney fees. This case was on behalf of students at Portland Adventist Academy who sought a reasonable accommodation from the OSAA to compete in the state basketball tournament without having to play during the Seventh Day Adventist Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday).

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Legislation

PRIVACY: Prohibit Location Tracking of Students (HB 2386) (2013)

In November 2012, a student at a Texas school was kicked out of school for failure to wear a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that the school had distributed for tracking attendance. RFID tags are tiny computer chips that are more commonly used to track everything from cattle to commercial products moving through warehouses. The National ACLU has been commenting on the use of RFID technology since 2005, concerned that privacy and data security issues may well outweigh any potential benefit.

Hearing of the Texas example, Representatives Phil Barnhart (D-Central Lane and Linn Counties) and Lew Frederick (D-Portland) and Senator Betsy Close (R-Albany) were concerned, as well. They introduced HB 2386 to protect the privacy of Oregon students. The bill outlawed completely the use of RFID location tracking of students in Oregon schools.

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EQUAL PROTECTION: Require Schools to Adopt Fair School Discipline Policies (HB 2192) (2013)

We supported HB 2192, which promotes the types of behavior and discipline practices in schools that focus on keeping students safe and keep students learning.

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Other

Civil Rights & Education Advocates Applaud State Department of Education Website Disclosing Suspension and Expulsion Data of Students of Color

June 18, 2012 – Five civil rights and education reform organizations today applauded the launch of a new website created by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) making disciplinary data in school districts across the state more accessible to the public and say it is an important step towards reducing the disproportionate discipline of students of color in Oregon public schools.

The launch of the state database came at the request of the organizations after the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon released its report on the School to Prison Pipeline in Oregon in 2010. That report highlighted dramatic disparities in disciplinary action for students of color compared to their white counterparts, as well as increased contact with the juvenile justice system.

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The Pledge of Allegiance in Oregon Public Schools

Many public schools in the United States ask students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Some students object to the practice for reasons of conscience. Both the Oregon Legislature and the courts have developed a common-sense solution to the conflict: a school may lead students in reciting the Pledge, but it must also respect the wishes of students who choose not to join in.

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