Schools don't always feel like places where students' rights are protected. School officials don't need probable cause to search students, freedom of expression is severely limited, and punishments are often handed out without due process. Students often feel unsafe at school, and their educational needs aren't always met.
However, students do have rights, and smart students know how to protect them. Students' rights are designed to protect students' dignity, to maximize their educational experiences, and to maintain a safe and fair school environment. The following tips can help students protect their rights:
1. Know your rights Student rights include:
- The right to an education--Students have the right to an appropriate education, even if the school has to make special adjustments to meet student needs. Laws protect students with health or learning problems, gifted students, and students in poverty.
Safety--Students can't learn when they don't feel safe. Every student has the right to an environment free from bullies, unsafe buildings, and violence.
Protection from unreasonable search and seizure--School employees don't need a warrant or even probable cause to search students or their belongings. But they do need to have some suspicion that a crime has been committed or that a school rule has been broken.
Freedom of speech--Schools have the right to prevent students from using profanity, racial slurs, or promoting unlawful actions. They can stop students from wearing offensive t-shirts, but they can't punish students for stating unpopular opinions.
Protection from cruel and unusual punishment--Before students can be expelled, they have the right to due process, usually in the form of a hearing with school officials.
2. Speak up for your rights If students don't demand that their rights be respected, they won't be. Students who feel like their rights have been violated should speak up, so that school officials know that students take their rights seriously.
3. Argue effectively When a student feels like her rights are being violated, that student should ask to speak to the principal. Students should remain calm, and remember the following:
- Use good timing--Students who suddenly demand to see the principal during a math lesson aren't going to get a great reception from the teacher. Students who wait for a better time will have more success.
Know what you want--It's not enough for a student to say that her rights are being violated. Students need to know what they want and ask for it, whether it's a transfer to a different class, a new locker, or a seat in the front of the classroom.
Know when to involve parents--If the principal just isn't listening, then a student will have to ask her parents to join in the discussion.
4. Contact a lawyer Student rights have a lot of legal precedents, and lawyers know or can look up all of them. When a student feels like a right has been violated, especially if that violation caused any sort of negative effect for the student, that student should contact a lawyer. Lawyers can tell students whether or not their rights really were violated, and can even argue the student's case in court if it reaches that point.
Remember that school is a place where students should be able to learn without distraction. Student rights are designed to maximize learning and safety for all students, so don't be afraid to protect yours.