Students' Rights - Court Cases, Legislation, News, Fact Sheets


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Students' Rights


Protecting the rights of students is key because most people’s first major encounter with the government is in the school setting. For students to appreciate the importance of civil liberties, it is critical that their rights be protected in school.

Students' Rights in the News

  • Apr, 13, 2018: ACLU Appeals Court Ruling in Providence Student Housing Case
  • Mar, 29, 2018: ACLU Applauds Filing of Formal Regulations to Protect Rights of Trans Students
  • Mar, 07, 2018: ACLU Reminds School Districts of Students’ Rights in Advance of March 14th Student Walkout

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Students' Rights Related Court Cases

2016: Federal Hill Capital v. City of Providence
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Due Process    Students' Rights    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit against the City of Providence challenging a city ordinance that prohibits more than three “college students” from living together in certain areas of the city.  The lawsuit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, is on behalf of the owner and tenants of a house in the Elmhurst section of Providence. The suit argues that the ordinance violates the plaintiffs’ rights to due process and equal protection of the law.

Current Status:
In February 2018, the Court ruled against the rights of the college students. The ACLU of RI is considering appealing the ruling to the RI Supreme Court.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Jeffrey L. Levy, Charles D. Blackman

Supporting Documents
2015: J.A. v. Town of Tiverton
Category: Due Process    Privacy    Students' Rights    

About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against Tiverton police and school officials over an incident in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, had her belongings searched, was taken alone to the police station without her parents’ knowledge, and then held and questioned at the police station for several hours before being released. The seizure, detention, and interrogation of the young child were based solely on unsubstantiated claims from another child that the girl was carrying “chemicals” in her backpack, and occurred even after the police found nothing suspicious in the backpack.

Current Status:
Lawsuit successfully settled in June 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Amato A. DeLuca, Miriam Weizenbaum

Supporting Documents

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Students' Rights Related Legislation

School Security (H 7850)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

This legislation is one of many introduced this year seeking to improve school security, often by imposing law enforcement-type measures into the school setting. The ACLU appreciates the intent, but are concerned about the over-criminalization of youthful behavior. We increasingly see the use of school resource officers to provide routine school discipline, often escalating minor infractions into arrests, and research paints a very nuanced picture of the effect these officers have on school safety. The ACLU testified against this bill which remains in committee. 

Arming Campus Police (H 7938)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

Following an active shooter scare on the campus of the University of Rhode Island in 2013, every public higher education institution in the state was given authority to decide whether or not to arm their campus police. After very creful consideration of this decision from the leaders of these institutions, the University of Rhode Island became the only one to arm their campus police. Under House bill 7938, all campus police would become armed, regardless of the decisions already made on this matter. 

There is a tremendous danger inherent in introducing guns to college campuses.  While there is always the hypothetical situation in which campus law enforcement officers could benefit from being armed, it is a certainty that introducing weapons to college campuses brings with it the very real danger of accidental discharges and tragic cases of misunderstandings and misidentifications. The ACLU of Rhode Island testified against this bill.

Right to Education (H 7696, S 2181)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

More than twenty years ago, the Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected a lower court ruling that our state Constitution guaranteed children the right to an “equal, adequate and meaningful education.” Four years ago, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that decision, saying it was “sensitive” to the concerns that the state’s school funding formula created unfair disparities between poor, urban schools and more affluent communities, but that it was bound by the previous precedent to reject this newer constitutional challenge to the formula.

This important amendment proposed as Joint Resolutions S-2181 and H-7696 revise the language in the Article to be more explicit about its goal, and establish the right to an adequate education for Rhode Island’s youth as a fundamental and judicially enforceable right. The ACLU of Rhode Island supports these efforts to resolve inequality in education throughout the state.

School Computer Privacy (H 7710, S 2644)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

For the past few years, school districts statewide have begun handing out school-owned computers for at-home use by students. These devices carry virtually no privacy protections, allowing schools to spy on students at home. The ACLU is a strong supporter of legislation introduced by Representative O'Grady (H 7710) and Senator Satchell (S 2644) allowing school officials to search the devices only when there is reasonable suspicion to believe the child has engaged in misconduct and prohibit remote access except in limited circumstances. In 2017, the ACLU published a report, entitled “High School Non-Confidential,” which highlighted the need for this legislation. After receiving a hearing, no further action has been taken on this bill. 

Over the Counter Medication in Schools (H 7570, S 2340)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

Current Department of Health regulations, opposed by the ACLU, require parental permission for students to carry and self-administer any OTC medication in school. While this absurd zero-tolerance rule should never have been enacted in the first place, legislation was introduced last year to create a statutory exception for one medication – sunscreen. This new bill takes things a step further, highlighting the ridiculousness of the current policy, by also allowing students to bring to school over-the-counter products to treat menstrual cramps or vaginal yeast infections without a doctor’s or parent’s note.  This legislation (H 7570) was sponsored by Rep. Donovan, and its companion legislation, S 2340, is sponsored by Senator Calkin. You can read our testimony here. After a public hearing, no action has been taken on these bills.