Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kids These Days!

Growing up in 21st Century America is not as easy as it seems. Getting an education isn’t just about books and grades. Students are also learning the rights and responsibilities of being members of society. And while students may not have the same constitutional rights as adults in public, they do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate!

Advances in technology have impacted young people’s lives in ways we could’ve never imagined – from smart phones and social media to strange big brother-style surveillance. For liberty to be preserved, it must be nurtured in the hearts and minds of young people. But in order for students to be effective civil liberties advocates, they need to know their rights. Sometimes these rights can be unclear, which is why the ACLU of Wyoming published Know Your Rights: A Guide for Public School Students in Wyoming, a manual aimed at answering some of the most important questions public school students have about our freedoms.

It’s unfortunate that constitutional violations are far too common in public schools across the country. Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for students that is conducive to learning. But they also have a responsibility to respect every student's individual rights. These two missions are not incompatible. Students have rights too!

Students need to know their rights to protect themselves against abuses by police, school officials, and other adults. Know Your Rights: A Guide for Public School Students in Wyoming covers traditional civil liberties issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from unreasonable searches. The guide also tackles current issues affecting public school students like social networking. The manual addresses particularly the rights of different categories of students, including students with disabilities, homeless students, immigrant students, lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) students, and pregnant and parenting teens.

This manual discusses when students’ rights can be exercised, when school officials can limit them, and offers practical tips for students. Although written primarily for students, this publication will be useful to educators, school counselors, administrators, parents and guardians, and journalists alike. It devotes a section to discipline, and outlines tips on how parents and students can be their own effective advocates.

The future of liberty relies on young people to carry the torch of civil rights. We designed this handbook as a guide to the many important rights students enjoy. In doing so, we hope to prepare the next generation of guardians of liberty.