As students across Missouri prepare to go back to school, parents and caregivers make sure they're equipped with No. 2 pencils, three-ring binders, and text books -- everything they'll need to start the school year. Right?

Yet for all this preparedness, we frequently overlook sending our children back to school with a firm understanding of their rights as students. While classes give them the basic knowledge of history and math, they can too often overlook educating youth on their basic rights within the school itself

The school-to-prison pipeline is a real concern in Missouri. Too often, students of color are treated with disproportionately harsh discipline in school compared to their white classmates, even within the same school district. 

Constitutional rights apply to minors as well as adults. See below for some major cases from the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Notable Cases in Students' Rights

New Jersey v. TLO (1984)

The Supreme Court acknowledged Fourth Amendment's restrictions on unreasonable searches and seizure covered public school teachers. It relaxed the usual Fourth Amendment requirements of probable cause and a warrant. The unique circumstances of educating students allow for a search based on reasonable suspicion only, a much lower standard.

Bethel School v. Fraser (1986)

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the suspension of a student for vulgarity during a school assembly, saying one of the functions of a public school is to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms during classroom discussions or during school assemblies. Under some circumstances, student speech can be restricted without violating the First Amendment.

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

The court ruled that school officials must have authority to refuse to sponsor student speech that might “reasonably” be perceived to advocate the use of drugs, alcohol, irresponsible sex, or conduct otherwise inconsistent with shared “values of civilized authority.” The court also ruled that schools may exercise editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored activities. The court cautioned that the ruling only applies to materials that have a “valid educational purpose.”

Morse v. Frederick (2007)

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the suspension of a student with a sign saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" noting that school officials may restrict a student’s speech at school-sponsored events when the speech can be reasonably viewed as promoting the use of illegal drugs, even when those expressions take place at a school-sponsored event off campus.

Safford Unified School District v. Redding (2009)

The court applied its reasonable suspicion test to a search of a student which involved looking inside her bra and underwear. The court held this sort of search was only reasonable if there was specific evidence pointing to hidden contraband in these places.

JDB v. North Carolina (2011)

Citing the fifth amendment, the court required notification of an individual’s Miranda warnings prior to questioning when in custody. The court suggested that what counts as custody for minors, including school students, is assessed from the student's perspective; whether a reasonable student of the same age and characteristics of the student would feel free to leave, not what a police officer or principal might think.

These cases (and many more) have codified rights specifically for students as well as shown how Constitutional principles can be applied directly to youth in schools. 

So how can your student apply these rulings in their school? Make sure they go to school knowing their individual rights. Read on.

Know Your Rights as Students

As students, they have a voice in how they are treated by the school and law enforcement. 

Send your child to school with this list of their rights: 

  • You have the right to an education.

  • You have the right to know what's in your school's code of conduct.

  • You have a right to be heard. In most cases, you have the right to tell your understanding of events before receiving an out-of-school suspension.

  • You have the right to refuse to sign anything. If you're given a written statement to sign, you don't have to do it -- know that any written statement can be turned over to law enforcement.

  • You have a right to stay silent. When being questioned by school staff or law enforcement, you are not obligated to talk if you don't want to -- any verbal statement you make can be turned over to law enforcement.
  • You have the right to call your parent or guardian. If you're taken into custody, you can call your parent or guardian so they know where you are and what's happened -- you aren't alone.
  • You have a right to an attorney. If you're taken into custody and can't leave, you have a right to legal representation before being questioned.
  • You have a right to refuse searches. If school staff or law enforcement asks if they can search your person or your property, you can say no -- "I do not consent to any search" is a legally binding refusal.
  • You have the right to appeal. If you're facing an out-of-school suspension that lasts for 10 or more days, you have the right to appeal the decision.

We've made this information available in a printable format.

We believe all students should feel confident in the knowledge of their individual rights. While school provides knowledge, it is up to families and communities to prepare them to be the next generation of world changers and leaders. And that starts with empowerment.