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.

READ MORE: The rights of young people in Oregon


Oregon Schools Must Protect Transgender Students

UPDATE: January 20, 2015 - We sent a letter outlining the rights of transgender students to the Dallas School Board ahead of a special meeting held last night. The letter read, in part:

"The refusal to allow transgender students to use the same facilities used by other students in accordance with their gender identity violates Title IX and impairs students’ ability to learn, grow, and thrive in the school environment. Research shows that denying transgender people access to facilities that correspond to the gender they live every day holds serious consequences for them, negatively impacting their education, employment, health, and participation in public life. Conversely, full acceptance of a student’s gender identity—including allowing them access to gender-appropriate facilities —goes a long way toward providing a welcoming environment and a positive educational experience. Moreover, disclosure of a student’s gender identity, without their permission, is against the law and can have serious, long-term negative repercussions. It is critical for schools to respect the privacy of transgender students, even if the school is operating with no ill intent."


I [Heart] Boobies

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



PRIVACY: Social Media Privacy in Education (SB 344) (2013)

A companion bill to HB 2654, which prohibits employers from compelling access to an applicant or employee’s social media account, SB 344 extends this prohibition to Oregon colleges and universities, restricting their access to applicants’ or students’ private social media accounts.


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.



Open Letter to Oregon School District Superintendents

student in libraryDecember 16, 2016 - Since the outcome of the presidential election, our country and state have seen an escalation in incidents that threaten the safety and civil rights of minority students. Over the past several weeks, students of color have been subjected to bullying and harassment at school, students exercising their First Amendment rights to protest have been discouraged and threatened with discipline, undocumented students have been threatened with the possibility that their right to attend public school will be withdrawn, and LGBTQ students have been told they will no longer be accommodated and supported at school. We, like many of you, are disturbed and heartbroken to learn of the extent of the challenges these students now face just to make it through a school day intact. Some school staff and administrators have reached out to the ACLU of Oregon for assistance and resources.

In an effort to assist schools in confronting these challenges and providing a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, we are sending this advisory to all Oregon school district superintendents and sharing it here on our website. Our goals to inform students, parents, staff, administrators, and community members about the rights of students at school, to provide resources, and to ask that Oregon school districts take appropriate measures to protect the rights of your students. This letter addresses topics of bullying and harassment, the First Amendment, and the rights of students of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ students.


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.