Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates. — US Supreme Court, Tinker v. Des Moines
Any discourse about the future has to begin with the issue of youth because more than any other group they embody the projected dreams, desires, and commitment of a society’s obligations to the future. — Henry Giroux
As a distinct environment where young people spend a majority of their waking hours, schools affect youth in very specific ways. Following are issues regarding youth rights in schools.
The information in this section was adapted with permission from The Student Bill of Rights Project. It was a collaboration to create a national student-led mandate for schools in the United led by the National Youth Rights Association in coordination with Oblivion, The Freechild Project and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. More than 3,000 edits were made by more than 100 participants from each of these organizations.
Existence and Belief—All youth have the undeniable right to the freedom of existence and belief in every imaginable area including, but not limited to, sexual orientation, political, moral, and spiritual beliefs, and the freedom to express such beliefs without fear or influence from our schools, as long as no one’s property or person is physically damaged or violated by said beliefs.
Expression—Youth have the right to wear any clothing they want, when they want, how they want, without codes of appearance hindering their free expression in schools. Clothes should not materially, substantively, and/or directly disrupt the educational process (to be judged by youth and adults). All youth in all schools have the right to freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom to organize protests or petitions of grievances to any employee in the educational system, which includes the school, district, state, or federal staff, and all elected, appointed, official or unofficial leadership.
Self-Control, Self-Management, and Self-Leadership—All youth in all schools have the right to choose what classes he or she wishes to participate in, without pressure from parents, teachers, guidance, and administration.
Skills Recognition—All youth have the right to be certified in their skills and educations, regardless of arbitrary requirements imposed by school administrators, the government, or parents. To fulfill this, certificates of completion and class transcripts individual to a given course should be awarded by schools for each course they teach. Youth have the right to choose which form of diploma they may pursue, be it individual class, vocational or career-specific, college preparatory, or state awarded. From this follows that youth have the right for their certificates of academic preparation to be equally evaluated by any future school, college, or university to which they may apply; and youth who choose to pursue diplomas other than a standard high school diploma have the right to have their individual courses evaluated as a measure of their academic achievement.
Self-Incrimination—All youth in all schools have the right to deny self-incrimination. No youth can be forced, under threat of punishment or otherwise, into signing any documents that state that they confess to having done something against school policy.
Assistance—All youth in all schools have the right to refuse assistance in school, specifically help in the form of special education curriculum and instruction, medication, or psychiatric help. No public school may expel a youth who refuses these or other services. A youth may also reserve the right to petition the school for these services if he or she feels that they would help in some way.
School Records—All youth in all schools have the right to view on their own accord their school records and to request a copy of the specified documents.
Possessions—No school policies, such as zero tolerance, can punish a youth for having an educational tool, such as scissors or a compass, or a medication that is useful or needed. If a faculty member thinks a questionable object is unfit for school it can be confiscated (as long as it is returned in a timely manner) without punishment, but no one can deny a youth a needed medication. If a youth is found with a medication considered unfit to be on their person, a faculty member may take them to the nurse’s office, but cannot personally confiscate it.
Refusing Education—All youth in all schools have the right to refuse education on a given day or altogether if they so choose. Laws inhibiting this act are unconstitutional by the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibiting involuntary servitude.
Community Serving and Service Learning—No school may have a policy requiring a youth to complete community service requirements in order to graduate.
Physical Safety and Support—All youth in all schools have the right to be free from harassment, assault, or bullying.
Corporal Punishment—All youth in all schools have the right to be free from all forms of corporal punishment, including but not limited to paddling, i.e., beating the youth’s buttocks with a wooden board. It is, further, not enough to offer coercive choices to keep corporal punishment as an option. Schools, just as workplaces, need to be entirely free from all forms of corporal punishment and the sexualized and sadistic hostile environment they impart to all youth and staff.
Medical Care—All youth in all schools are entitled to immediate medical care if needed. The nurse’s office shall not refuse any youth who expresses that they feel that they might vomit, have a seizure, become unconscious, or any other function that may lead them to be a danger to themselves and other youth in the classroom setting. Anyone who needs medical care is to be first priority.
Restrooms—All youth in all schools have the right to use the restroom facilities as needed.
Grievances—All youth in all schools who are the victims of harassment, physical, sexual, or otherwise, assault, or bullying, both verbal and physical, have the right to have their grievances dealt with in a proper manner, including an investigation into said incident, and proper punishment of the culprit, and determent of any act of vengeance. This includes harassment, assault, and bullying by teachers, staff, deans, guidance counselors, head principals, and vice principals. No youth is required to go to a specific person to report such incidences. Furthermore, any staff member who witnesses such acts is obligated to report them. Any youth or staff member who reports such incidences has the right to confidentiality.
Separation of School, Home, and Community—All youth in all schools have the right to organize, promote and participate in organizations of their choice on or off of school property, so long as they are law abiding.
School/Community Connections—All youth in all schools have the rights to seek sponsorships for their organizations from outside sources such as private businesses, church groups, and community centers. This right extends to sports teams, clubs organizations, and to music and art departments. This is to ensure that youth are able to enjoy activities of their choice without having to worry about funding being cut partially or completely from the school’s budget.
Socio-Economic Status—All youth in all schools have the right to deny participation in any scholastic activity that requires communication in any form about family finances, home life, and/or the occupation of the youth parents.
School/Home Connections—All youth in all schools have the right to the separation of authority between home and school. Unless the school has strong suspicion of abuse (sexual, physical, and/or psychological), neglect, and/or endangerment, they may not question a youth about his or her home life. If the school has evidence of abuse, they are to report it immediately to the authorities.
Privacy—All youth in all schools have the right to refuse drug testing unless there is a court ordered warrant for it. Refusal to take a drug test is not to be considered sufficient reason for a warrant.
Searches—All youth have the right to refuse searches of their person and personal belongings such as purses, book bags, and lockers unless there is a court ordered warrant for it. Refusal to allow a search is not to be considered sufficient reason for a warrant. Furthermore, all youth have the right to have a purse or book bag in their possession, and also the right to the temporary ownership of any available locker.
Fair, Equitable, Adequate, and Appropriate Learning—All youth in all schools have the right to be provided an adequate and well balanced education regarding the topics of drugs, alcohol, and human sexuality. Youth and only the youth are to decide whether they want to learn these topics. A parent may not withhold their child’s education if the youth is willing and wants to learn. Likewise a parent cannot force their child if the youth does not want to learn, and nor can the school, unless it is considered necessary for a degree in a particular subject.
School Continuity—All youth in all schools have the right to an uninterrupted education. No school will refuse to enroll a youth or deny a youth their education because of their living arrangements or home situation. A parent may not un-enroll their child from school if the youth wants to continue to attend. No law shall be passed or enforced that directly or indirectly denies a youth their right to an education.
Topics—All youth in all schools have the right to a quality education that covers the disciplines, including music and the arts, and is fair and balanced. Teachers have the right to teach and cover more material than what the school administration has prescribed, so long as it is within the limits of the law and all the required material is covered.
Democratic Participation—All youth in all schools have the right and responsibility for being involved in educational decision-making at all levels, including decision-making affecting them personally, in their classrooms, local schools, and at the district, state, and federal levels.
Influencing Youth Leadership—All youth in all schools have the right to be led by the moral and political leadership of their peers while at school. No adult may directly or indirectly impede or influence the activities of a youth governing body.
Teacher Evaluation—All youth in all schools have the right to express their concerns and complaints regarding a teacher’s or staff member’s performance, and have their opinions taken into consideration.
Youth Participation—All youth in all schools have the right to participate throughout their school and the education system. This includes the right to representation, participation, and meaningful involvement as education planners, evaluators, teachers, researchers, advocates, and as community organizers focusing on education.
Full Participation—All youth in all schools have the right to full participation in all forms of formalized education decision-making, including committees, site councils, school boards, and other venues. Youth must be allowed, encouraged, and able to full participation, including voting in school boards, budget referendums, and other activities, and in all areas of education, including budgets, personnel, and curricula.
Youth Courts—All youth in all schools have the right to youth-led courts. These courts have the right to privacy and effectiveness, and no adult may directly or indirectly impede or influence their ability, authority, and sustainability without permission of the youth governing body.
Participation—All youth have the right to participate in any school sponsored activity.
No school may deny any youth the right to participate in any sport based on their grades, performance in said sport, or membership in any youth based group. No school may deny any youth the right to participate in any sport on the basis of gender if the sport is not offered for both males and females. No school may deny any youth participation in school athletics if they are involved in a community athletics team.
Access—All youth in all schools have the right to knowledge about this document and the values, perspectives, and knowledge contained herein. No school has the right to keep a youth ignorant about his or her freedoms within this document, or any other document that contains information such as rules or rights the youth has. No employee of a school may lie to a youth about his/her rights, or anything contained in these documents.
Freechild Institute Youth Rights Toolkit
- What Are Rights?
- Who Are Youth?
- What Are Youth Rights?
- Traditional Youth Rights
- Nontraditional Youth Rights Issues
- The Future of Youth Rights
- Youth Rights Library
- Youth Rights Resources