10 Back to School Laws Every Student Should Know
It’s back to school season, so we’ve compiled a list of laws that every student should know about. We hear from many children and teenagers throughout the year who have either been disciplined at school or are concerned about their rights in the school setting. It’s well established that school kids do not shed their rights at the schoolhouse gates, so be informed and be empowered.
1. When can a student’s property be searched? Students do have privacy rights at school, but that is balanced with the school’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment. Basically, school officials must have at least “reasonable suspicion” that the student is engaged in criminal activity or breaking school rules before searching personal belongings. That means more than a hunch and is based on the totality of the circumstances. While strip searching students isn’t completely unconstitutional (there may be rare circumstances that allow for such), school officials must have reasonable suspicion of danger and belief that the contraband is hidden in the underwear before conducting such an invasive search.
2. What about phones? Do teachers have the right to search a student’s phone just because it’s been confiscated? Based on a recent Supreme Court decision (summer 2014), we believe that the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures concerning cell phones applies to students as it does to anyone else being detained by the police. This means that searching through students’ phones should be off limits without a warrant or in the rare case, when there’s some type of emergency. Hear Judge Tom discuss this case and the application to students in this video. Here are more Q&As about phones at school.
3. Can schools demand students’ passwords to social media accounts? Generally, a school cannot force students to give up their social media passwords; however, recent laws like this one in Illinois allow school administrators to demand the passwords IF the student is suspected of breaking a school disciplinary rule. Here is one student’s story who challenged the school’s action and ended up receiving $70,000 in a settlement with the school district who also agreed to rewrite their social media policies concerning the monitoring of students online.
4. The good, the bad, the bullied. Everyone has heard of some of the tragic stories during the past few years about bullying gone too far. Schools can discipline students a number of ways for breaking their anti-bullying policies including suspension, expulsion and even refer the matter to the police in which criminal charges may be filed. Let’s all vow to spread kindness this school year and make bullying a thing of the past.
5. Random searches by drug sniffing dogs. Random and unannounced drug searches in schools have been determined constitutional. When schools bring in drug sniffing canines to find drugs, it’s actually not considered a “search”, but an alert by the dog allows the school administrators to further search students and their property.
6. Corporal punishment – yes, it’s still legal, believe it or not, in nineteen states. Check out the map here to find out if teachers and principals can paddle and swat students in your state.
7. What not to wear – dress codes are alive and well in many public schools across the country. As long as they are not discriminatory and do not infringe on students’ free speech or religious rights, school dress code policies are most likely legal. While students can be disciplined for wearing the confederate flag, recent cases have ruled in favor of students’ right to wear I (heart) boobies bracelets.
8. Dancin’ with myself…uh, uh, uh…no! LGBT students have the right to bring same sex dates to the homecoming, prom and other dances. Gays, trans and gender nonconforming students also have the right to wear what they want to the dance so long as it complies with the dress code, so guys in gowns and girls in tuxes are acceptable.
9. Skipping school – Did you know that parents are often held responsible for their children’s unexcused absences? This includes jail time! Also, students may be suspended, appear in truancy court and ultimately, may have to repeat a grade after too many missed days. Students should know the attendance policies at their school (just look in the Student Handbook) and the compulsory attendance laws in their state.
10. Schools have the right to discriminate? Not exactly, but public colleges and universities can still use affirmative action plans in the admissions process. This means that race can still be used as a factor in achieving a diverse student body, but it must be used as a last resort and if there are no other race-neutral means to achieving the same result.