Lehigh ValleyThe U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions guarantee certain rights, and most of them apply to students in public schools. The Pennsylvania School Code and the federal Equal Access Act spell out some additional rights for public-school students.
For instance, students have the right to:
- Wear clothing, armbands, and buttons that express their views, even if they are political, controversial, or unpopular
- Put posters and flyers on school bulletin boards
- Distribute flyers and leaflets in school
- Produce and distribute ‘underground’ newspapers
- Circulate petitions, collect signatures, conduct surveys and polls
- Organize clubs of their own choosing
- Sponsor speakers and activities
- Set up information tables
- Choose their own hair style (and color)
Restrictions on time, place, and manner – The school can regulate the time, place, and manner of student events and activities, provided that the restrictions do not unreasonably prevent them from reaching other students with the material.
Restrictions on content – The school may require students to submit materials in advance, and may refuse to allow material that is obscene, advocates acts that are unlawful, or creates a substantial disruption of school; restrictions of content related to drugs, sex, or violence have also been upheld.
Note that a ‘substantial disruption’ means something that actually disrupts the educational process—the school cannot refuse to approve something just because they don’t like or agree with the message or because it is political or controversial, or because some people—even a majority of students or staff—do not agree with it.
Make sure you know the school rules. The school is required to publish a description of student rights and responsibilities, distribute it to students and parents, and make a copy available in the school library. (Many schools also make a copy available on the school website.) Unfortunately, many schools list student responsibilities, but fail to mention students’ rights.
Schools have a strong obligation to protect the rights of minorities—including those relating to gender identity and expression.
Some school rules violate the law – If a teacher or school administrator imposes restrictions on the rights shown above, check the student handbook to see what it says and ask for a copy of the actual policy adopted by the Board of Education. If the handbook or board policy limits rights that are guaranteed under the law, contact the state ACLU.
For more information on students’ rights, check your state ACLU’s student rights manual: