Monday, September 10, 2018

Student Rights: Know Your Rights and Claim Them

The Children Are Watching

What would we do without the ACLU?  Right now, while the US government is stalling and resisting judges’ rulings requiring them to immediately re-unite immigrant parents with the children stolen from them by border agents and other US government employees, it's the ACLU that has brought the lawsuits that have led to these rulings. And it's the ACLU now engaged with non-profits and legal assistance organizations in our country and in Central America to find parents who were deceptively deported and reunite them with their children who may be scattered across the US in detention centers we hadn’t even known about.  Thank you, ACLU.

The ACLU – the American Civil Liberties Union – is also marking the beginning of this school year by reminding us that when a child enters a public school, he or she does not surrender their rights.  This would seem obvious in a democracy, in a country governed by the rule of law, but in fact has been contested over many decades, especially since students began protesting the US war in Vietnam and bringing those protests to schools.  Do students have a right to free speech at school?  Can a student wear a t-shirt with a peace symbol to school?  Can students wear black armbands protesting the war – and the military draft, which all boys over 18 were facing – in class?  Did a dress code forbidding boys’ long hair to be longer than their collar violate freedom of expression?

These and other questions of  student rights arose during the US war in Vietnam and had to be litigated, fought for.  Courts would often rule in favor of school regulations that forbade anything that “disrupted learning,” meaning if a teacher found the peace symbol shirt distracting, or saw boys’ long hair as disrespectful, he could send the student home or refer for disciplinary action. A teacher who found armbands unpatriotic and therefore disruptive (especially if the teacher made a big deal out of it, thus causing other students to be “distracted”) was often supported by rulings that valued keeping the school “smooth-running”  over individual rights.

We need the ACLU’s reminder that students have rights. Share their guide to student rights with your children and grandchildren, your students and fellow teachers, your school’s administration.

The issue of student rights is more urgent, more timely, today than ever.  Today, we have to worry about the criminalization of student behaviors, the role of the school’s discipline policies in setting some youth – mostly African American and Latino and poor – on a path into mass incarceration by turning school disciplinary practices into policing. We have to worry about schools being pressured to reveal immigration status of children and their families (it’s illegal, by the way). We have to worry about the rights of students walking out to advocate for gun safety laws and DACA protections.  And we especially have to worry about the uses of technologies in classrooms that open children to data gathering and data mining for commercial and other purposes – a danger little known to parents (who are promised that computers in schools help “prepare their kids for 21st-century jobs….”).  These dangers have been recently well documented in detailed studies by Alex Molnar and his colleagues at the National Education Policy Center (see also my blog entitled “Learning to be Watched”.)

I’m very grateful to the ACLU for reminding us that children in schools have rights.  These rights were fought for by individual youth and their families, by student journalists, by teachers, and by many pro bono lawyers over many years. I’ve been dismayed to see these rights often buried in the back of student handbooks (now websites) under the school rules – showing up as just another administrative document under “Rights and Responsibilities.”  We need to bring student rights out into the light – not as bureaucratic detail but as an affirmation that our children are protected in our democracy. We want them to grow up to be active, to feel that freedom to speak and choose the message on their t-shirts, to lead out on social issues, and to respect and defend the rights of others.

We need to keep working to protect these rights as the encroaching and invasive technologies work to undermine them in such surreptitious and technically sophisticated ways we are often unaware.

We can’t let that happen:  the children are watching.

Here’s the ACLU’s most recent information on the larger issue of rights:

Over the past year, students embodied our democracy. They organized against injustice, participating in a mass walk-out and taking hold of a national conversation.
But as students are heading back to school, many of them are being greeted by more police and metal detectors, and few, if any, counselors. Increasingly, students of color are entering a school system that's policing the children it's tasked to protect – conducting invasive searches and subjecting them to disproportionate punishment.
We just released an interactive report analyzing data on race, discipline, and safety in our public schools – all 96,000 of them. Check out these findings that show how public schools are performing nationwide, and in your own county.
Here are some key takeaways:
  • For the first time in history, public schools in America are serving mostly children of color.
  • Students who missed school in 2015-16 because of suspensions – disproportionately students of color – were denied a total of 11 million days of instruction. That’s 60,000 school years and 60 million hours of lost education. All in a single school year.
  • Millions of students are in schools with cops but no counselor, social worker, or nurse. In 2015-2016, there was a student-to-counselor ratio of 444:1.
The Trump administration is calling for increasing "law and order" with more school police, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is even considering allowing the use of federal funds to arm teachers with guns – moves that will harm students of color the most and deepen education inequality.
We're facing a national school system that’s harming the students it has a duty to protect, but this past year showed us the power that youth have, even so.
We all need to be back-to-school ready.
The ACLU Team

No comments: