10 Commonly Asked Questions on Student Rights
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed October 11, 2023
Welcome to frequently asked questions (FAQ) on student rights. This FAQ aims to provide answers to the most common questions about the rights of students in U.S. educational institutions. This guide is anchored in federal law, state law, and Supreme Court rulings. It covers various topics ranging from enrollment, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), financial aid, and other educational programs that will be experienced during the academic year.
1. Does a student have the right to express their opinions and beliefs in school?
Yes. Students have the right to express their opinions and beliefs in schools as long as their actions do not disrupt the educational process or infringe upon the rights of others. This right is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, this freedom is not unlimited. School officials can restrict speech if it disrupts the educational process, is offensive or lewd, or infringes on the rights of others.
A student may express their opinions orally and in writing. A student must make sure that while expressing this opinion or belief they do so in a way that does not disrupt classes or other school activities. In addition, the student should not use vulgar language.
2. Can a school have a dress code?
Yes. Generally, schools can enforce dress codes if they are reasonable and related to the school's educational goals. However, the dress code should not infringe upon a student's First Amendment rights or discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, or race. To learn more about school dress codes, visit FindLaw's School Dress Codes page.
3. Does a student have to say the Pledge of Allegiance?
No. Students have the right to recite the Pledge of Allegiance if they please, but they also have the right to abstain from saying it. This is according to a Supreme Court ruling. For more information, visit FindLaw's School Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance page.
4. Can the school start the day or an activity with a prayer?
No. Under federal law, public schools cannot start the day or an activity with a prayer. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this action was a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from promoting religion. Prayers in school or at a school activity violate this clause.
5. Can a female student be kicked out of school if she is pregnant?
No. A pregnant student cannot be expelled from school. This is illegal under federal law, specifically under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972. This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including pregnancy, in educational programs. A school may offer special classes for pregnant students. The student is not required to attend these classes if she would prefer to be in her regular classes.
6. Can the principal or a teacher search a student's locker or handbag?
Yes. School officials can search a student's locker or handbag if they have a reasonable suspicion that the student has violated school rules or laws. However, the search must be reasonable in scope and cannot violate the student's Fourth Amendment rights. To learn more about this topic, visit FindLaw's School Searches and Student Rights page.
7. Can a school have metal detectors?
Yes, a school can have metal detectors. Courts have ruled that a metal detector is less of an invasion of privacy than other kinds of searches. This falls under a school's obligation to maintain a safe learning environment. However, their use must be nondiscriminatory and reasonable. Metal detectors cannot be used selectively, i.e., on a certain group of students and not others. To learn more, visit FindLaw's School Violence and Weapons: Metal Detectors in Schools page.
8. Can a school have a tracking system?
Yes. A school can implement a tracking system. However, this must be done while respecting student privacy rights under FERPA. The tracking system should not infringe upon the student's right to privacy. Tracking systems are all right if the students are separated on the basis of learning ability and not on a racial, ethnic, or gender basis. Moreover, any tracking system used by a school system must ensure that all students are given the same basic education.
9. Can a student who doesn't speak English attend a public school?
Yes. A student who does not speak English has the right to attend public schools. Under federal law, schools must provide appropriate language assistance to ensure students can participate meaningfully in educational programs. Teaching is the function of any public school. The school can teach the student English and provide them with a good education in other subjects at the same time.
10. Can a public school teach religion?
No. Public schools are prohibited from promoting or endorsing a particular religion. However, they can teach about religions in a secular, objective, and fair manner as a part of a well-rounded curriculum. As part of the curriculum, a public school cannot promote religious beliefs or practices. A public school can, however, teach about the influences of religion in history or literature.
General Student Rights
Student rights cover a wide variety of areas, including the right to a fair and equitable education regardless of whether the student is full-time or part-time. These rights apply in various settings, such as high schools, private schools, postsecondary institutions, or any accredited degree programs across different school districts.
Eligible students have the right to access their education records under FERPA. The school must obtain waivers to disclose directory information of students without consent. This includes information like the student's name and GPA.
Special education rights are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This ensures that students with disabilities receive appropriate services. Schools must accommodate students on a case-by-case basis, adapting coursework and providing additional support when necessary. Students should know that their rights continue transitioning from high school to postsecondary institutions. These laws also apply to medical schools and law schools in America.
Schools are also required to safeguard student information, including mental health records and contact information. U.S.C., or the United States Code, provides the legal basis for these protections. Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) can only access these student education records under specific circumstances, such as when it relates to the justice system.
Throughout the school year, it's not uncommon for schools and school districts to host webinars or provide additional information to ensure students, parents, and guardians understand these rights. If you feel your rights have been infringed, contact your school district or an educational rights organization to understand the next steps.
Getting Legal Help with Student Rights
If you believe your rights have been violated or you need more information about student rights, you can reach out to the U.S. Department of Education. You can also consult with a legal education professional. It's important to understand and exercise your rights to ensure a fair and equitable education.
If you have questions, consider speaking with an education lawyer.
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