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, 24, 2019: Groups Applaud Commissioner of Ed Ruling Barring Schools from Charging for Field Trips
  • Apr, 11, 2019: ACLU and R.I. Legal Services Appeal Decision Undermining Rights of English Language Learners
  • Feb, 25, 2019: ACLU Settles Legal Actions on Behalf of Students with Disabilities Affected by School Bus Strike

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Students' Rights Related Court Cases

2018: J.Y. v. Providence School Department
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Rights of the Disabled    Students' Rights    Youth Rights    

About This Case:
J.Y. v. Providence School Department is one of three separate administrative legal actions taken with the RI Department of Education on behalf of students with disabilities who a caught up in the Providence school bus strike. All three complaints allege that the failure of the school district to honor its responsibility under the students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to provide transportation to and from school violates federal and state laws protecting the students’ rights.

The three legal actions, all filed with RIDE, were:

1) Due Process Petition.
Filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Christine Marinello on behalf of twelve-year old Jeremy Young, who has “complex medical, mobility and academic needs and requires the use of a wheelchair at all times.”

2) Demand Letter.
Letter is on behalf of students with disabilities who live and go to school outside Providence, but who have been affected because their buses originate in Providence and are therefore not running.

3) Class Administrative Complaint.
Complaint is on behalf of four named families representing all students with disabilities whose education plans for transportation are being disregarded during the strike.

Current Status:
In February 2019, these complaints were formally settled.  The ACLU is still helping get reimbursement to parents who lived outside Providence but had their busing disrupted by the strike. Parents experiencing problems in getting reimbursed can contact the ACLU.

Christine Marinello, Veronika Kot, Ellen Saideman

2018: ACLU v. Miller
Category: Discrimination    LGBT Rights    Open Government    Students' Rights    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit filed in RI Superior Court against the Achievement First Mayoral Academy for failure to respond to requests from the ACLU for copies of its policy pertaining to the rights and protections afforded transgender students.  The lawsuit argue that the school's failure to respond is a violation of the state's open records law.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in August 2018.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Annie Goldberg

Supporting Documents

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Students' Rights Related Legislation

School Resource Officer Funding (H 5370)
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

Despite a noted lack of counseling staff and behavioral health services in public schools, proposals to increase school safety tend to arrive back at the same “solution”: increasing school resource officers on campus. The ACLU opposed H 5370 which would do just this by indefinitely extending a reimbursement program for school districts that choose to hire additional SROs. We testified that a reimbursement program could incentivize the funneling of critical financial resources into law enforcement rather than sorely needed mental health programs, and that increased disciplinary and enforcement protocol and personnel on campuses will disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students.

Commission to Encourage People of Color to Enter the Educational Field (H 5553)
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

According to data provided by RIDE, 42% of students enrolled in the Rhode Island public school system during the 2017-2018 school year were students of color. 87% of educators in our public schools are white.

Studies have well-documented the connection between having teachers of color and high achievement in minority student populations. We supported H 5553, introduced by Representative Karen Alzate, which would create a special legislative commission to study ways in which Rhode Island can encourage people of color to enter the field of education. In our testimony, we urged the consideration of policies which would bar teacher applicants from being disqualified from certification solely based on their performance on a standardized test, due to the noted gaps in passing rates between white test-takers and test-takers of color.

Right to an Education (H 5252, S 42)
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

For students in low-income communities, remedies for a lack of educational equity are particularly urgent. H 5252, introduced by Representative Mary Messier, and S 42, introduced by Senator Roger Picard, would propose an amendment to the Rhode Island constitution guaranteeing the right to an adequate education. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has several times rejected the notion that students have a judicially enforceable right to an education; this bill would ensure and constitutionally establish this right as fundamental. The ACLU supported this legislation.

School Computer Privacy (S 549)
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

In recent years, distributing computers to students in our public schools for home use has become commonplace. Unfortunately, as a study we conducted from two years ago showed, students have virtually no privacy protections on these computers, with some policies even allowing remote spying on students. S 549, introduced by Senator Adam Satchell, would implement comprehensive privacy requirements for these computers which would only allow school officials to search devices if they have reasonable suspicion to believe the student has engaged in misconduct on the computer, and would prohibit remote access except in limited circumstances. We testified in support of this bill.

Threat Assessment Teams (H 5538) Passed House
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

A heightened fear of violence on school campuses has led to legislative efforts intended to mitigate potential threats, but that sometimes impinge on civil liberties; H 5538 is one such of these bills. This legislation would create threat assessment teams for each school in Rhode Island and allow individual school boards to adopt relevant policies for their implementation.

We testified that while we fully support the inclusion of mental and behavioral health specialists on campus who can assist students in need of psychological support, there is a current demonstrated lack of these personnel on school campuses. Increasingly, the scarcity of these specialized staff members has been supplemented by school resource officers. We’re concerned that assembled threat assessment teams could become heavy on law enforcement and light on staff who professionally provide mental health support. We also noted that enforcement protocols like this would disproportionately affects students of color and students with disabilities, whose behaviors, actions, and words are often perceived as more threatening than those of other students.

Over-the-Counter Medication In Schools (H 5323, S 264)
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

Introduced by Rep. Susan Donovan, H 5323 would allow high school students to bring over-the-counter medications for self-administration on school property. Current regulations require school authorization; we argued that students shouldn’t need permission from a school nurse to bring Tums or Midol to school. We testified in favor of a similar Senate bill, S 264, introduced by Senator Ana Quezada, which would allow use of medication to treat menstrual cramps and vaginal yeast infections by students without parental authorization. 

Military Recruiter School Access (H 5250)
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

H 5250 would grant access to student names, addresses, and phone numbers to military recruiters unless the student or parent of the student opts out of having this information made available. An ACLU of RI study from a number of years ago found that most school districts do not provide clear and consistent methods for informing students of their right to opt out, and so we encouraged the adoption of amendments that would better protect students’ rights in these circumstances.