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


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


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

  • Sep, 25, 2020: Court Preliminarily Approves Settlement in Title IX Lawsuit Against Brown University
  • Sep, 21, 2020: ACLU Report Shows Alarming Lack of Privacy Protections for Students Engaged in Remote Learning
  • Sep, 16, 2020: Brown University to Reinstate Two Women’s Sports Teams in Response to Title IX Lawsuit

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Students' Rights Related Court Cases

2020: Cohen v. Brown University
Category: Active Case    Civil Rights    Discrimination    Gender Discrimination    Students' Rights    Women's Rights    

About this Case:
This is a motion to enforce a 1998 court judgment against Brown University for violating Title IX.  In 1996, the ACLU filed a “friend of the court” brief filed in support of a (successful) challenge to Brown University’s athletic program as sex-discriminatory in violation of Title IX.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in June 2020.

ACLU Cooperating Attorney:
Lynette Labinger

Supporting Documents
2020: Johnson v. Pawtucket
Category: Active Case    Civil Rights    Criminal Justice    Discrimination    Racial/Ethnic Discrimination    Police Practices    Students' Rights    Youth Rights    

About this Case:
This is a lawsuit against the City of Pawtucket over a School Resource Officer’s (SRO) unlawful handcuffing and arrest of a 13-year-old African-American middle school honors student.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in June 2020.

Cooperating Attorneys:
Shannah Kurland, Lynette Labinger

Supporting Documents

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Students' Rights Related Legislation

Recruitment of Teachers of Color (H 7292) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

Studies have well-documented the connection between having teachers of color in the classroom and high levels of achievement for minority student populations. We supported H 7292, introduced by Representative Karen Alzate, which would instruct the Commissioner of Education to develop strategies with the intent of bolstering the retention and recruitment of minority teachers and administrators in Rhode Island public schools. In our testimony, we specifically 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.

School Computer Privacy (H 7509) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

In recent years, the distribution of computers to students in RI public schools for home use has become extremely commonplace, if not ubiquitous across districts. 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. H 7509, introduced by Rep. June Speakman, would implement comprehensive privacy requirements for such computers which would allow school officials to search devices only if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that the student has engaged in misconduct on the computer, and would prohibit remote access except in very limited circumstances. We strongly supported this legislation.

Over-the-Counter Medication in Schools (H 7506, S 2401) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

Introduced by Representative Susan Donovan and Senator Ana Quezada, H 7506 and S 2401, would allow high school students to bring over-the-counter medications for self-administration on school property. Current regulations require school authorization; in supporting the legislation, we argued that students shouldn’t need permission from a school nurse to bring Tums or Midol to school. 

School Discipline Reform (H 7439) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

Despite the passage of important legislation in 2016 which was intended to address the overzealous use of out-of-school suspensions in Rhode Island schools, the discipline data for many school districts continues to display alarming disparities for both students of color and students with disabilities, and shocking rates of suspension for the youngest students in grades K-5. In addition, not a single school district has submitted a statutorily required report to the Rhode Island Department of Education addressing their efforts to mitigate such disparities. We supported a critical piece of legislation, H 7439, introduced by Rep. Grace Diaz, which would largely eliminate the ability for a K-5 student to be given an out-of-school suspension and strengthen the current reporting requirements for school districts.

Mental Health Personnel Funding (H 7171, Article 10) Held for Further Study
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

Article 10 of the proposed FY 2021 budget would extend the current reimbursement funding available for the hiring of school resource officers (SROs) to the hiring of mental health professionals by public schools. We have consistently opposed statutorily created financial incentives for the hiring of SROs over other, more critically needed personnel, and supported this budget Article because it would prioritize behavioral and mental support over more punitive disciplinary punishments.

Sunscreen in Schools (H 7123) Held For Further Study
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

Regulations promulgated by the Departments of Health and Education restrict students from self-administering over-the-counter medication, including important preventative care products such as sunscreen, on school campuses without “parental authorization.” Although we supported this legislation, introduced by Representative David Bennett, we pointed out the absurdity that a student who could bring and administer sunscreen under this bill still wouldn’t be able to utilize an ointment to treat a sunburn without this discretionary permission. We encouraged the committee to enact a more expansive piece of legislation to address this issue, such as H-7506, sponsored by Rep. Susan Donovan, which would allow older students the right to bring OTC medication to school.

Funding for Field Trips (H 7043, H 7069, S 2327) Passed House, Sub B Passed out of Senate Committee
Category: 2020    Students' Rights    

When a decision from the former-Commissioner of Education, supported by the ACLU, came out last April and affirmed guidelines for equity in the administration of public school field trips, it provoked considerable and extensive confusion and public attention. Even before this year’s legislative session began, it seemed inevitable that legislation to address this topic would swiftly move through the General Assembly.

As predicted, two pieces of legislation quickly introduced in the House of Representatives attempted to address the former-Commissioner’s decision by statutorily allowing for parental contributions towards the funding of school field trips. However, what the former Commissioner’s decision appropriately noted is that in order to ensure accessibility and equity for all students regarding these formative educational experiences, no student or parent can be required to provide payment for these trips or be forced into the stigmatizing position of asking for a fee waiver for financial reasons. We offered several amendments to these two pieces of legislation, H 7043 and H 7069, to ensure the essence of the Commissioner’s ruling remains intact. The House amended their legislation to reflect our concerns, and we supported the amended version which passed on the House floor.

The Senate additionally introduced legislation concerning field trips which we supported; we did, however, urge amendments to clarify the strictly voluntary nature of any requested donations. The Senate Committee on Education ultimately passed a Sub B version of H 7069 out of committee, and this bill will soon be on the floor of the Senate.