- You have the right to speak out, hand out flyers and petitions, and wear expressive clothing in school — as long as you don’t disrupt the functioning of the school or violate school policies that don’t hinge on the message expressed.
- What counts as “disruptive” will vary by context, but a school disagreeing with your position or thinking your speech is controversial or in “bad taste” is not enough to qualify. Courts have upheld students’ rights to wear things like an anti-war armband, an armband opposing the right to get an abortion, and a shirt supporting the LGBTQ community.
- Schools can have rules that have nothing to do with the message expressed, like dress codes. So, for example, a school can prohibit you from wearing hats — because that rule is not based on what the hats say — but it can’t prohibit you from wearing only pink pussycat hats or pro-NRA hats.
- Outside of school, you enjoy essentially the same rights to protest and speak out as anyone else. This means you’re likely to be most protected if you organize, protest, and advocate for your views off campus and outside of school hours.
- You have the right to speak your mind on social media, and your school cannot punish you for content you post off campus and outside of school hours that does not relate to school.
Can my school discipline me for participating in a walkout?
- Because the law in most places requires students to go to school, schools can discipline you for missing class. But schools cannot discipline you more harshly because of the message or the political nature of your action.
- The punishment you could face will vary by your state, school district, and school. If you’re planning to miss a class or two, look up the policy for unexcused absences for your school and school district. If you’re considering missing several days, read about truancy. Also take a look at the policy for suspensions.
- If you are facing a suspension of 10 days or more, you have a right to a formal process and can be represented by a lawyer. Some states and school districts require a formal process for fewer days.
- You should be given the same right to make up work just as any other student who missed classes.
What do I do if I’m confronted by police at my school?
- If you’re stopped by a police officer at your school, stay calm. Don’t argue, resist, run away, or otherwise interfere with the officer. Ask if you’re free to leave. If the answer is yes, calmly and silently walk away from the officer.
- If the officer asks you a question, you have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to refuse to write or sign a statement. But if you waive these rights, anything you say, write, or sign can be used against you. And if you choose to make a statement, ask to have a lawyer, parent, or guardian present before you are questioned.
- You can refuse to give your consent to be searched by the police. This may not stop the search, but this is the best way to protect your rights if you end up in court.
- Don’t consent to a phone search; police need a warrant to search your phone. The same goes for a strip-search. No police officer or school employee has the authority to strip-search you.
- Don’t resist, fight, or flee from an officer who is arresting you. Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer present.