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

  • Oct, 31, 2019: Barrington Sues Student for Challenging Unlawful School Suspension; Seeks Award of Fees
  • Sep, 17, 2019: ACLU, Legal Services Blast Providence Schools and RIDE for Treatment of English Learner Students
  • Aug, 29, 2019: Providence School District Sued for Hiding Documents Related to Federal Law Violations

View All Students' Rights Related News Releases »

Students' Rights Related Court Cases

2019: Barrington School Committee v. Student
Category: Active Case    Due Process    Free Speech    Right to Petition & Protest    Students' Rights    Youth Rights    

About this Case:
This is a lawsuit brought by the Barrington School Committee against the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education (CESE) and a middle school student who successfully challenged his three-day out-of-school suspension - twice.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in October 2019.

Aubrey Lombardo

Supporting Documents
2019: RILS v. Providence School District
Category: Active Case    Civil Rights    Discrimination    Racial/Ethnic Discrimination    Open Government    Students' Rights    

About this Case:
This is an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) lawsuit seeking a court order to force the Providence School District to release Department of Justice documents about the district's violation of federal law related to the rights of English Language Learners.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in August 2019.

Lynette Labinger, Ellen Saideman

Supporting Documents

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Students' Rights Related Legislation

School Resource Officer Funding (H 5370) Died in Committee
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 have done 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 would disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students. This bill died in committee.

Right to an Education (H 5252, S 42) Died in Committee
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 have proposed 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 have ensured and constitutionally established this right as fundamental. The ACLU supported this legislation, but it died in committee.

School Computer Privacy (S 549) Died in Committee
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 have implemented comprehensive privacy requirements for such 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 have prohibited remote access except in limited circumstances. We testified in support of this bill, but it died in committee.

Threat Assessment Teams (H 5538, S 818) Passed
Category: 2019    Students' Rights    

A heightened fear of violence on school campuses has led to legislative efforts which are intended to mitigate potential threats, but that sometimes impinge on civil liberties; H 5538 and S 818 are two of those bills. This legislation creates threat assessment teams for each school in Rhode Island and allows 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.

This legislation passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor. 

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

Introduced by Rep. Susan Donovan, H 5323 would have allowed 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 have allowed use of medication to treat menstrual cramps and vaginal yeast infections by students without parental authorization. Both of these important bills died in committee. 

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

H 5250 would have granted access to student names, addresses, and phone numbers to military recruiters unless the student or parent of the student opted 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. This bill died in committee.