In America, students do not lose their constitutional rights “at the schoolhouse gate.” The protection of students’ rights to free speech and privacy—in and out of school—is essential for ensuring that schools provide both quality education and training in our democratic system and values. Unfortunately, schools continue to demonstrate a disturbing willingness to abridge students’ rights. In recent years, educators have repeatedly disciplined students for speech critical of teachers and administrators. Likewise, we have seen a disturbing trend of schools—especially those providing important e-learning tools like laptops—monitoring students’ activities both on and off campus.
The ACLU continues to be a leader in courts and statehouses across the country in protecting both students’ free speech rights and privacy. For instance, we have aggressively fought against policies that require students to surrender their social media passwords to school administrators. Our “Don’t Filter Me!” project seeks to remove school Internet filters that block hundreds of LGBT websites. And we continue to litigate and advocate for legal privacy protections during school searches and seizures.
A school is not a constitutional dead zone. How can we expect today’s students to grow up to be tomorrow’s civic leaders if we do not respect these fundamental national values in our schools? If students are suspected of criminal activity, school administrators should be forced to make their case before searching students or seizing property. Likewise, students should be free from discipline for speaking out on issues of the day or criticizing teachers or officials. If we respect these principles in the schoolhouse, we protect them in the future.