Washington’s constitution defines education as the “paramount duty” of the state and makes education a fundamental constitutional right. Public schools are one of the largest and most important parts of government, and at some point public education directly affects the life of almost everyone in America.
Public school students have many important rights. As the Supreme Court decision in the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District declared, students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The ACLU does a lot to protect the rights of students., both in the courts and in the state legislature. In Washington the ACLU has fought to defend student free speech at school and on the Internet. The ACLU has opposed suspicionless student drug testing, defended the rights of students to participate in gay-straight alliances, and educated school administrators about the rights of students to respectfully refrain from participation in flag salute ceremonies. The ACLU forcefully advocated for an important new law against discrimination in schools and encouraged dialogue about alternatives to draconian “zero tolerance” policies in schools.
But perhaps the most important work occurs on the ground, in each of Washington’s 295 public school districts. In order to help students and families know their rights and exercise them, the ACLU publishes a comprehensive series of guides on student rights, public school disciplinary procedures, school board advocacy, and truancy procedures. Each year the ACLU shares these publications and others with Washington families to help them better understand their rights, and use them.
In order to stand up for their rights, public school students and their parents need to know what these are. And if you think your rights have been violated, the ACLU would like to hear from you.