December 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undocumented students have been threatened with the possibility that their right to attend public school will be withdrawn, and LGBTQ students have been told they will no longer be accommodated and supported at school.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 (it's available to read in full, below). 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.
Because of the delicate balance between civil liberties and every student's right to be educated in a safe, supportive environment, we sent this letter to provide a brief overview of the legal framework in some of the trickier areas. This is, of course, not an exhaustive discussion of the law. We know that balancing the right of free expression with the right of all students to attend school in a safe environment is not a simple task, and it requires school administrators to exercise strong professional judgement with a close understanding of the facts of every situation.
Public education is the foundation of our democracy, and Oregon’s school administrators have the power to ensure that all students will learn about, protect, and promote their own civil liberties along with those of their peers. We hope that this letter serves as a resource in that important work.
As a nation we charge educators not only with teaching our children but also with protecting them while they learn. In times like these, it can only help for school officials to reiterate their firm commitment to inclusion and creating supportive environments for all students, at the same time, maintaining a setting that honors the free speech rights of young people.