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5 Rights Your Child Has in School That You Should Know About
Published August 21, 2019
As your child heads back to school this year, make sure you know his rights and entitlements to services. Federal and state laws protect the rights of students in school, yet many parents are unaware of their child’s legal protections as a student. Here are five rights that your child—from kindergarten to high school—possesses in a public school:
The right to be safe
Ultimately, every parent’s biggest concern is the safety of his or her child. Luckily, with certain limitations, teachers and administrators have the general duty to act as a parent when protecting their students, under the doctrine of in loco parentis. While this is not a guarantee of safety, your child has the right to supervision in school and the right to be safe from foreseeable harm, which should ease some of your worry.
The right to freedom of speech
Especially in today’s political climate, it is important to know when your school district is legally allowed to stop your child from protesting or speaking up. This is far less often than you probably imagine. Students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the First Amendment, students have the right to free speech, as long as it does not cause a substantial disruption in school or interfere with the rights of others. For example, if a student walks out in a peaceful protest of school shootings, he may not face school discipline, even if the protests deviate from school-sanctioned protests.
The right to be free from severe and pervasive bullying and harassment
Bullying can have a devastating effect on any child and it is the obligation of the school to take reasonable steps to protect students from that harm. New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act seeks to provide students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and bullying in school or at school-related activities. School districts must take appropriate action to prevent bullying and harassment and cannot be deliberately indifferent. This includes off-campus harassment or bullying where there is some sort of connection to the school.
The right to evaluations and a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities
Every student learns differently, especially those with special needs, emotional difficulties, or mental health concerns. School districts have an obligation to identify and evaluate students suspected of having a special need that may impact their learning. If a student is eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the school district must create an Individualized Education Program. An IEP must provide instruction and services designed to meet the unique needs of a child. Parents have the right to challenge IEPs or lack of services in a due process hearing. Students with special needs also have the right to receive accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In addition, public schools may not discriminate against students with special needs, and may not deny them equal access to all programs.
The right to a free public education, regardless of race, color, national origin, or even immigration status
Families do not have to prove their immigration status to enroll their children in school, and public schools cannot deny undocumented children the right to an education. If your child is an English-language learner, she has the right to receive English language instruction in school.
This list is not inclusive of all rights and services your child has in school. If you believe your child’s rights have been abridged, consult with an experienced attorney.
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