The First Amendment in Schools
Ten Commonly Asked Questions on Student Rights
- Does a student have the right to express his/her opinions and beliefs in school?
Yes. A student can express his/her opinions orally and in writing. A student must, however, make sure that in expressing this opinion or belief that he/she does so in a way that does not disrupt classes or other school activities. In addition, the student should not use vulgar language.
- Can a school have a dress code?
This depends on the state. Many states allow dress codes unless they are unreasonable or discriminatory.
- Does a student have to say the Pledge of Allegiance?
No. A student has the right to remain silent and seated during the pledge.
- Can the school start the day or an activity with a prayer?
No. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from promoting religion. Prayers in school or at a school activity violate this clause.
- Can a female student be kicked out of school if she is pregnant?
No. Schools are prohibited from discriminating against pregnant or married students. A school may offer special classes for pregnant students. The student is not required to attend these classes if she would prefer to be in her regular classes.
- Can the principal or a teacher search a student's locker or handbag?
Yes. Students have fewer privacy rights in school than out of school.
- Can a school have metal detectors?
Metal detectors are allowed in many states. Courts have ruled that a metal detector is less of an invasion of privacy than other kinds of searches. Metal detectors cannot be used selectively, i.e., on a certain group of students and not others.
- Can a school have a tracking system?
Yes. Tracking systems are all right if the students are separated on the basis of learning ability and not on a racial, ethnic, or gender basis. Moreover, any tracking system used by a school system must ensure that all students are given the same basic education.
- Can a student who doesn't speak English attend a public school?
Yes. Teaching is the function of any public school. The school can teach the student English and provide him/her with a good education in other subjects while learning English.
- Can a public school teach religion?
No. A public school as part of the curriculum cannot promote religious beliefs or practices. A public school can, however, teach about the influences of religion in history or literature.