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
Our public education system exists to provide an education to *all*
students, equally. This principle was established as the law of
the land by the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case called
_Brown v. Board of Education_. The Constitution guarantees your
right not to be discriminated against in school based on your race,
ethnic background, religion or sex, and regardless of whether your
family is rich or poor.
In addition to that constitutional protection, lots of federal,
state and local laws also protect students against discrimination
based on disability, pregnancy and sexual orientation.
Sybil, the coach wouldn't let me join the soccer team just because
I'm a girl. Can he do that?
SYBIL: Sports programs in public schools aren't allowed to
discriminate against girls or boys, which means that a sports
activity can't be offered only to boys or only to girls. Some
schools make exceptions for contact sports like football, or where
students have to compete with each other on the basis of skill for
places on a particular team. In most places, a school can set up
separate teams for girls and boys as long as the sport is offered
to both sexes.
I'm gay and I want to bring a guy, as my date, to the senior prom.
Can school officials say no to that?
SYBIL: They might, although in the one case where this issue came
before a court, the court ruled that preventing a gay student from
bringing his male date to a school dance violated his rights.
Whether you're lesbian, gay or straight, as a public school student
you're entitled to the same privileges as any other student, and
school officials aren't supposed to violate your rights just
because they may not like your sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, while a small (though increasing) number of states
and municipalities have passed laws that forbid discrimination
based on sexual orientation, public high schools have been slow to
establish their own anti-bias codes and slow to respond to
incidents of harassment and discrimination against lesbian and gay
students. So even though, in theory, you can take a guy to the
prom, join or help form a gay group at school or write an article
about lesbian/gay issues for the school paper, in practice gay
students still have to fight hard to have their rights respected.
If you feel you're being mistreated by students, teachers or the
school administration because you're gay, your local ACLU can tell
you how to fight back.
What if I'm pregnant, Sybil? Can I be kept out of school?
SYBIL: No. School officials are not allowed to keep you from
attending classes, graduation ceremonies, extracurricular
activities or any other school activity -- except maybe a strenuous
sport. There's a federal law called Title IX (9) of the Education
Amendments of 1972 that bans schools from discriminating against
married or pregnant students. You have as much right to a high
school education as any other student.
I truly believe my teacher gives me a hard time just because I'm a
person of color. Is there anything I can do to change that?
SYBIL: Yes there is, and you *should* do something. The federal
Constitution, state constitutions *and* various federal and state
laws all forbid the personnel and administrators at your school
from discriminating against you because of your race, the country
you or your family came from originally or your religion. If you
feel that you or someone you know is being discriminated against,
speak up: Talk to a teacher, the principal, the head of a community
organization or a lawyer so they can investigate the situation. If
necessary, you can take legal action.
I tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Do I have
the right to be treated the same as other students?
SYBIL: Yes! The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects
people with HIV disease against discrimination in schools and in
many other "public accommodations," such as stores, museums and
hotels. This means you have the right to go to school like any
It's a medical fact that the AIDS virus can't be spread through
casual contact. That's why the ADA, as well as other federal and
local laws, forbid discrimination against people like yourself.
You're not a threat to other people's health just by having HIV or
AIDS. If you think your school is discriminating against you
because you're HIV-positive, contact your local ACLU for
information about what legal action you should take.
My school uses a tracking system, and most of the kids in the
bottom tracks are from poor and minority families. Isn't that
SYBIL: It sure looks that way, doesn't it? Almost all public
schools have tracking systems that're supposed to separate students
according to learning ability, but studies have revealed that
factors other than learning ability may be determining which of us
get placed in which tracks.
The standards and tests school officials use in deciding on track
placements are often based on racial and class prejudices and
stereotypes, rather than on our real abilities and learning
potential. As a result, it's usually the white, middle-class kids
who end up in the college prep classes, while poor and non-white
students, and kids whose first language isn't English, end up in
"slow" tracks and vocational-training classes. And often, the
lower the track you're in, the less you're taught.
Can I challenge my placement in a particular track?
SYBIL: If it's not the track you want to be in, you should. All
the tracks are supposed to give the same courses -- the higher
tracks on a more advanced level, the lower tracks on a less
advanced level but, basically, the same education. If the track
they put you in gives you a completely different education than you
would get in the highest track, then make an issue of it.
Even if you have low grades or nobody in your family ever went to
college, if you want to go to college then you should demand the
type of education you need to realize your dreams. And your
guidance counselor should help you get it! Your local ACLU can
tell you the details of how to go about challenging your track
| "The opportunity of an education . . . is a right |
| which must be made available to all on equal terms." |
| U.S. Supreme Court |
| Brown v. Board of Education (1954) |
I'm not an American citizen. Do I have the same constitutional
rights citizens have?
Yes! If you're a permanent resident -- that is, a "green card"
holder -- or even if you're in the U.S. illegally, you're still
entitled to the same constitutional protections an American citizen
receives. All of the rights set forth in the Constitution's Bill
of Rights are guaranteed to *all* people living in this country,
regardless of their nationality or citizenship status. And even if
you're not a citizen, you have the right to a free public education
-- which means the administrators of your school can't treat you
any differently from any other student.
Your local ACLU office can answer other questions you have about
your right to equal treatment in school and your other
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, PO 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