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Do Students Have Legal Rights to Protest During School?

Although it may not always feel like it, students do have certain rights at school. These student rights are generally in line with the rights afforded to all U.S. citizens by the U.S. Constitution. But, when in school, students do have limitations to those rights.

For example, while students have a general right to privacy, this right ends if there are safety concerns. And although students don't lose their First Amendment right to free speech when they walk through the door of their school, there are limits to those rights. So, what legal rights do students really have at school, and is protesting during the school day one of those rights?

Student Loan Forgiveness Options May Disappear Under New Budget Plan

Higher education is important to many people, but it doesn't come cheap. In order to get a college or graduate degree, many people need student loans. Of course, the hope is that once you receive a degree, you'll be able to get a job, and repay your student loans.

However, this isn't as easy as it theoretically seems. For this reason, there are various repayment options for people who take out student loans. But, under President Trump's new spending plan proposal, there are many changes to repayment options for those who owe money for federal student loans.

A Duke University professor made waves last week when it was revealed that the syllabus for one of her courses included the warning: "Anyone who is on the staff of The Chronicle is not permitted to take this class." Members of the campus newspaper were rightfully miffed at the supposed ban, which, in the end, turned out to be a poorly worded attempt to stress confidentiality in the courses content.

But it does raise an interesting legal question about a professor's or a school's ability to ban certain students from specific courses. Is every class open to every student?

The morning of Monday, October 2, 2017, Windfern High School Principal Martha Strother witnessed senior student India Landry sitting during the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance over the school's intercom. Landry had allegedly been sitting through the pledge since her freshman year, "around 200 times in class through six or more teachers without incident." But Principal Strother's response on this occasion was curt and definitive: "Well you're kicked outta here."

Landry was expelled from Windfern High, told she would only be allowed to return if she "was going to stand for the pledge like the other African-American [sic] in her class," and finally readmitted after negative coverage of the expulsion from local news. All of which, and Landry's mother's lawsuit against the school district, begs the question: can public schools discipline students for peaceful protests?

Less than a year after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a federal lawsuit accusing the largest student loan servicing company in the country of "systemically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment," the Pennsylvania Attorney General followed suit, claiming loan servicing giant Navient "put their own profits ahead of the interests of millions of families across our country who are struggling to repay student loans."

Navient is in charge of some $300 billion in student loan debt after it split with Sallie Mae in 2014, and could be on the hook for that company's subprime student loans and loan servicing shenanigans.

Any time a 4.1 GPA student claims teachers and school administrators 'threatened, punished and censored her, for expressing her opinions on religion, abortion, sex education, and drug education in an attempt to chill, deter and restrict (her) from freely expressing her opinions,' you know it's not a good situation.

Cidney Fisk, a self-described atheist, claims she clashed with Delta High School staff on issues ranging from abortion and sex ed classes to football game attire, to the point that her grades were adjusted down and a counselor threatened to rescind letters of recommendation. Those threats led to anxiety attacks, and then a lawsuit against the school district, along with specific teachers and school staff.

Donald Trump's new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to rescind a six-year-old policy issued by Barack Obama's administration that advised colleges and universities on how to handle sexual assault allegations on campus. "Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate," DeVos told a crowd at George Mason University. "That's why we must do better, because the current approach isn't working."

But DeVos wasn't as clear about what the new approach would look like as she was about rebuking the old approach. So where does that leave victims, alleged abusers, and schools trying to meet their legal obligations?

Generally speaking, courts are fairly deferential to schools on educational matters, except possibly when it comes to race. And while the Supreme Court has major rulings on school desegregation and affirmative action, this might be the first time a federal court has taken up the issue of race in a school district's curriculum.

Arizona had passed legislation prohibiting courses "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," which targeted a decades-long, voluntary Mexican American Studies program for K-12 students in the Tucson Unified School District. But a federal judge ruled the ban was "enacted and enforced with a discriminatory purpose," and is therefore unconstitutional.

It's about that time -- your nest is about to get a little emptier. There are a lot of emotions that can bubble up when a child goes off to college, much of it is apprehension and fear for their wellbeing. And while you might be focusing on the physical, emotional, and financial risks (as well as that GPA), there are some legal risks to be aware of as well.

So here are a few legal thoughts to throw on that college packing list before your child heads to campus:

One of the tropes often trotted out in immigration debates is the notion that undocumented immigrants are getting services meant for citizens without paying into the system that funds those services. While this has been proven untrue (Pew Research estimates 8 million undocumented workers and their employers paid $13 billion in payroll taxes in 2010), the myth of undocumented immigrants getting a free ride in the U.S. persists.

And few forums are as ripe for this sentiment as public education. So can undocumented immigrant children attend public schools?