American Civil Liberties Union Briefer ASK SYBIL LIBERTY
Sybil says: SPEAK OUT! ORGANIZE! GET INVOLVED!
We spend a big part of our life in school, so. . .let's make a difference --
* join the student government
* attend school board meetings
* petition the school administration.
* debate among yourselves
YOUR RIGHT TO
Students, listen up:
An important part of our education is learning how to participate fully in
the life of this nation. In order to participate, we need to keep in mind
two very important things. First, the Constitution is the highest law of
this land. Second, the Constitution has a Bill of Rights that protects the
freedom of each and every American. That includes you and me, the young
people of this country. So my message to you is KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and
EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS.
The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees everyone in the United States -- young
people included-- the right to "due process of law." This means you have the
right to be treated fairly by people who are in positions of authority, such
as teachers, school administrators or the police. For example, if a teacher
or school official accuses you of having done something wrong and wants to
suspend you, you have the right to a hearing so you can tell your side of the
story. This right was recognized in 1975 by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in
a case called Goss v. Lopez, which involved some high school students who
had been suspended without a hearing.
Your right to due process also means that if you're found guilty of
something, the punishment can't be more serious than the misconduct was. In
other words, you can't be expelled for a minor violation, or for doing
something for which other kids just got detention.
Keep in mind that if you go to a private school, your due process rights may
be different since private schools have a lot more freedom to make their own
rules. Also, remember that the laws in your state may give you other
protections in addition to what the federal Constitution provides. You can
find out about your state's laws from your local ACLU office.
What are my rights if I'm about to be suspended?
SYBIL: If you're facing a suspension of any length of time, you have the
right to notice of the charges against you. "Notice" means being told
exactly what you did that was wrong. You also have a right to a hearing
before a person or people who're impartial -- they don't have any kind of
attitude towards you, one way or the other. If you're facing serious
punishment, like suspension for more than 10 days, then you have the right to
be represented by a lawyer, who can call witnesses; to question or cross-
examine your accusers and the witnesses against you, and to have a record
made of everything that happens at the hearing for you to use if you want to
appeal the decision.
Do I have the right to a hearing every time my principal or teacher wants to
SYBIL: No, not every time. The general rule is that you have the right to a
hearing for serious punishments but not for minor ones. For example, if your
teacher makes you sit at the back of the class for being noisy, you're not
entitled to a hearing. But you are entitled to one if your teacher
recommends suspending you.
Doesn't the school have to let me know what I've been accused of before
suspending or expelling me?
SYBIL: It sure does. As I said before, you have the right to a hearing for
any serious punishment. At the very least, the school has to give you
written or oral notice of the charges against you. If you deny the charges,
they have to tell you what evidence they have and give you a chance to tell
your side of the story. The only way they can suspend or expel you without
notice or a hearing is if they think you are a danger to other students or to
school property. But even in that case, they should give you notice or a
hearing as soon as possible after they have kicked you out.
What can I be suspended for, anyway?
SYBIL: It really depends on what state you live in, since each state has its
own laws about a public school's authority to suspend students. Most school
officials regard suspension as an extreme punishment and use it only as a
last resort. Often, they don't suspend unless a student does something
illegal, dangerous or disruptive. The same goes for expulsion, although in
a lot of states expulsion is illegal based on the principle that everyone has
the right to an education.
What if a cop or a teacher starts grilling me in school -- do I have to
answer their questions?
SYBIL: No you don't. Even in school, "you have the right to remain
silent...." Sometimes there's nothing wrong with your answering a few
questions just to clear up something, but in general my advice to is this: If
you get the impression that the teacher or the cop suspects you of having
committed a crime, don't explain, don't lie, don't confess. Tell them you're
not going to talk until you speak with your parents or a lawyer.
What if I'm stopped by the police outside of school?
SYBIL: If a cop stops you on the street and tells you that you're a suspect
in a crime, tell him or her immediately that you want a lawyer. Never, never
try to talk your way out of whatever it is. Always ask for an attorney, and
don't give any information except your I.D. It's legal for the cop to frisk
you for weapons. If the cop asks to search you and/or your car, don't resist
the search but make it clear that you're not consenting to it.
I'm under 18. What happens if I'm arrested?
SYBIL: In most states, young people under 18 are treated as "juveniles";
they're not handled through the regular criminal justice system. This means
you have the right to get in touch with a parent or guardian as soon as
you're arrested. And in most states, you can be released into the custody of
your parents, a guardian or a probation officer instead of being held at a
detention center. In most states, you would get a hearing in juvenile court
rather than in adult criminal court, although in some states -- New York, for
example -- you have to be under 16 to go to juvenile court. If you're
charged, given a hearing and convicted of a crime, you could be sentenced to
a probation period, an educational or rehab program or time in a juvenile
prison. Also, your school will be told if you were arrested for a violent or
| "The Fourteenth Amendment protects the citizen |
| against the state itself and all of its |
| creatures -- Boards of Education not |
| excepted." |
| U.S. Supreme Court |
| West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette |
| (1943) |
Isn't it illegal for a teacher to hit me?
SYBIL: In at least 21 states, corporal punishment -- that's what it's called
when teachers punish kids by hitting them -- is totally banned. Some states
allow it in their school systems, but only under certain circumstances and
only if the physical punishment isn't "unreasonable and unnecessary" or
"excessive." A teacher is certainly not supposed to hurt you, so if one does
then contact your local ACLU.
A lot of adults have sense enough to know that hitting students is harmful
and definitely not the way to make us learn, and there's an organized
movement to ban corporal punishment nationwide.
Your local ACLU can answer any questions you may have about your right to due
process in school and your other constitutional rights.
To obtain a copy of _The Rights of Students_, a 181-page ACLU handbook, send
name, address & check/money order for $6.95 to ACLU Dept. L, P.O. Box 794,
Medford, NY 11763
A C L U
Produced by the Public Education Department
American Civil Liberties Union
132 West 43rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10036