Although some schools act as if the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to students in school, the Supreme Court of the U.S. has made clear that it does apply.
In many schools right here in the Lehigh Valley, students are denied the right to hand out leaflets, to wear clothing that expresses their opinions, to form clubs, and even to wear their hair as they please. In some cases, the problems may stem from administrators and teachers who are ignorant about students’ rights—but in other cases, the students’ rights are denied because that is more convenient for the school or teacher.
With only a few reasonable limitations, though, students do have the right to express their views (even if they are political, controversial, or unpopular), to organize clubs of their own choosing, and, in Pennsylvania, to choose their own hair style (and color).
We think it is vital to a democratic society for citizens to feel free to participate and express their thoughts, whether they agree with the prevailing ideas or not. Schools have an important role to play in preparing citizens for this active role, but the current state of students’ rights in many schools indicates that they are not fulfilling this responsibility.
When students go through year after year in schools where individual self-expression, independent thinking, and dissent are discouraged or prohibited, this becomes the norm. These students are being prepared to be silent, not to be free citizens.