Student Rights

During the past two weeks, we have all listened to the Parkland students as they voiced their anger, pain, and frustration. On the other side, we listened to those who said that these were just kids and the #NeverAgain movement would blow over. Reading this I wondered if our collective memory has become so short that we have forgotten the “youth quake” of the 60s.  In fact 1968 was a time of violent anti-war and political demonstrations. It was time eerily like today. I was one of those student radicals and still remember the strength and passion of my convictions. Like the those students of fifty years ago, the Parkland students are mobilizing to affect change. We should be proud of their determination and dedication and especially proud that students still have the courage to stand up for their beliefs!

Like most school districts we are preparing for the student walkouts scheduled this month. Our communications office has given us a script, including directions that all teachers and administrators are to follow. Unlike the walkouts after the elections, we are better prepared for these walkouts. However, as librarians, how well are we versed in the actual court decisions on student rights?

After last year’s walkouts, ALA offered a webinar on Student Rights, Protests and Free Speech. It is now available free on YouTube; however, at the time it was well worth the original cost. Emilio De Torre, the Director of Youth and Programs at the ACLU of Wisconsin, was the speaker. We learned about the Tinker Decision and the effect it had on student free speech. (On February 24, 1969, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate).” However, there are some caveats that go along with this Supreme Court decision. As the ACLU states: “Because the law in most places requires students to go to school, schools can discipline you for missing class. But what they can’t do is discipline you more harshly because of the political nature of or the message behind your action.”

As librarians, we need to be aware of the our students’ rights that deal with activism and safety. We are living in perilous times, and school safety is a priority for all of us. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources linked in this post and brush up on students rights as soon as possible. They do need our understanding and guidance. As noted in the description for the ALA webinar on students’ rights, “Mishandled protests can spark media backlash, and your institution can make headline news.”


Author: Kate MacMillan

18 years as Coordinator of Library Services for Napa Valley USD and Napa Valley School Library Consortium; 2010-current CDE Recommended Literature Committee member; 8 years as an outside library consultant for Follett Library Resources; 6 years as a Napa County Library Commissioner; Current member of California Dept of Education’s Literature Committee; Napa TV Public Access board member; ALA, AASL, CLA (Californiia Library Association), CSLA (California School Library Association) and CUE (Computer Using Educators). Conference presentations include: United We Stand; School and Public Libraries Working Together (CLA 2016, CSLA 2017), It’s Not Your Mother’s Library 2012 and 2013 (CUE); Enhancing Online Resources through Library Partnerships (CUE 2010); Implementing School Library Consortium (CSLA 2008); Athletes as Readers and Leaders (2008 Association of American Publishers & CSLA Project). Contributor to School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come!

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom


2 replies

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful post, Kate. I would like to extend Carolyn Foote’s invitation to KQ Blog readers to contribute resources to a Padlet at:

    Carolyn, district librarian for Eanes (Texas) Independent School District and Lilead Fellow, created this Resources for Planning a Peaceful March to support youth and educators who are organizing protests related to gun violence. She invited school librarians and others to add resources and share this information in their learning communities.

    I appreciate both you and Carolyn for reminding us of our responsibility to support students’ rights to participate as active citizens and to ensure their safety as they do so.

  2. Judi,

    Thanks, this is a fabulous resource!

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