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
freedoms 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.
In a lot of our public schools, drugs and violence are serious problems that
make it hard for teachers to teach, and for us to learn. Coming up with
effective solutions to these problems is a tough assignment for even the best
school administrators. Unfortunately, some school officials adopt
"solutions" that abuse students' constitutional rights. For example, they
search us, install video cameras in our classrooms, or plant undercover cops
in the hallways and washrooms, to spy on us. Such measures treat us more
like prisoners than students.
Remember: The Fourth Amendment guarantees you a right to privacy and the
right not to have your privacy invaded by "unreasonable searches and
seizures." It also protects your freedom to make certain decisions about your
body and your life in private, without interference from the government.
Sybil, what if I'm just hanging out in the hall and a teacher tells me to
empty out my pockets. Do I have to do it?
SYBIL: Your teacher is supposed to follow the student search guidelines
established by the United States Supreme Court in 1985, in a case called _New
Jersey v. T.L.O_. The Court said that although school officials don't have
to get a search warrant before searching you, your teacher or the principal
can't search you without having a specific, good reason to suspect that you,
in particular -- not just "someone" -- broke a law or a school rule. That
principle is known as "individualized suspicion." AND... they must conduct
the search in a "reasonable" way, based on your age and what they're looking
for. For example, if a teacher thinks he saw you selling drugs to another
student, he can stop you, pat you down, empty your pockets and search your
knapsack or your car -- if it's parked on school grounds.
You mean teachers can't search every student in a class because they think
some of us have drugs?
SYBIL: No, no and no. Just because school officials have information that
*some* students have drugs doesn't give them the authority to search all
What about a strip search?
SYBIL: Strip searching of public school students by school officials is
illegal in many states, and in others it's allowed but only under certain
conditions -- like when there's a solid reason to suspect a particular
student of having committed a *very* serious crime.
What about the police -- can they search me on the school grounds?
SYBIL: Yes, but police are held to an even higher standard than your teacher
or principal: They have to go to court and get a search warrant from a judge.
So if the cops want to search you, you tell them "no way" unless they either
*arrest* you or show you a warrant. The warrant has to have your name or an
accurate description of you on it, and it has to state what evidence the cops
are looking for and where they think they're going to find it.
Can my locker be searched?
SYBIL: In some states, courts have ruled that your locker belongs to the
school, not to you, so the school can search it. But courts in other states
have said school officials must have "reasonable suspicion" that you're
hiding something illegal before they can search your locker. Check with your
local ACLU to find out what the law is in your state. And give yourself a
break: Don't keep anything in your locker that you don't want other people to
Can my school make me take a blood or urine test to find out if I use drugs,
or a breathalyzer test for alcohol?
SYBIL: A drug or alcohol test is a search, but it depends what state you live
in whether the officials in your school have to have "reasonable suspicion"
that you're a user before they can make you take a test.
The ACLU has a problem with random testing programs, where officials test a
few individuals or force a whole class to be tested just because they suspect
that someone -- but nobody, in particular -- is doing drugs. Students all
over the country have challenged such programs, but while the courts in some
states have found them unconstitutional, they've said they're okay in others.
Your local ACLU will give you the word on school drug testing in your state.
Can my school use metal detectors to check for weapons?
SYBIL: In many states, yes, because requiring someone to pass through a metal
detector is regarded as less an invasion of privacy than are frisks or other
kinds of searches. Still, some states recommend that school officials follow
certain guidelines to protect students' rights. California, for example,
allows metal detectors in its schools, but they can't be used selectively
just on certain students. That would be discrimination.
Sybil, you said my right to privacy includes the freedom to make certain
decisions about my body -- like deciding whether to have sex or have babies.
Can you tell me where to go for a pregnancy test, medical care if I'm
pregnant or an abortion?
SYBIL: You go to the nearest family planning clinic. If you can't find a
clinic, call your local ACLU to get the name of one. Family planning clinics
will give you birth control information, counseling and a pregnancy test, and
some clinics also perform abortions and provide prenatal care. If the clinic
you go to doesn't have one or more of the services you want, ask them to
refer you to a place that does.
Can I get birth control supplies without my parents being told?
SYBIL: What you do or don't do with your body is nobody's business but yours.
But you should be aware that although a doctor can legally write you a
prescription for birth control, he or she doesn't have to. Also, a doctor
has the choice of telling or not telling your parents, so you should ask what
his or her policy is. Your school may provide birth control supplies. Check
Would my parents and boyfriend have to be told if I decided to get an
SYBIL: First of all, it's your constitutional right to have an abortion -- be
clear about that. *No* state requires you to seek your boyfriend's approval,
but some states have laws that require young women under the age of 18 to get
permission from their parents, or to tell their parents about the abortion.
If you *can't* tell your parents, you may be able to go to court and ask the
judge to drop the parental notification requirement in your particular case.
Your local ACLU office can refer you to a family planning counselor who will
Suppose I want to be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Can I get
tested without my parents knowing? Does *anyone* have to know?
SYBIL: Some states require that your parents be notified before you get
tested or get treatment. Your local ACLU can inform you about how the laws
in your state apply to HIV testing of minors, and where you can get tested
without anyone knowing. By the way: If your school or employer is trying to
*force* you to be tested for HIV, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE.
Your local ACLU office can answer any questions you may have about your right
to privacy 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
132 West 43rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10036