In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are "persons" under our Constitution.
— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
In spite of the Supreme Court's ringing endorsement of students' rights in the landmark Tinker decision, constitutional violations are far too common in public schools across the country. Articles about controversial subjects written for student newspapers are censored. Lockers and backpacks are searched without reasonable suspicion. Minority students are disproportionately directed to lower track programs. Majoritarian religious practices are officially sanctioned by teachers and school administrators. Female students are excluded from certain extracurricular activities, and gay students are intimidated into silence.
Teachers and administrators have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for the students that is conducive to learning. They also have a responsibility to respect each student's individual rights. These two missions are not incompatible. Kids have rights too!
When Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a 2002 federal law intended to raise standards in education, lawmakers could not have predicted that a minor provision requiring public schools to provide students' names and addresses to military recruiters would become one of the most controversial aspects of the new law.
But that's exactly what has happened.
The military recruitment provision of NCLB has caused concern for families who don't want to invite military recruiters into their lives and who fear for their privacy. Interest in the recruitment provision has grown along with public unease with the war in Iraq and well-publicized shortfalls in military recruitment.
The ACLU-NJ regularly hears from students and parents who want to learn how to stop their schools from releasing students' private information to military recruiters.
Fortunately, NCLB also requires schools to inform parents that they have a right to opt out of the recruitment provision to protect their children's privacy. Unfortunately, schools have varying systems for notifying parents, and many families never of learn of their right to opt out.
More resources on NCLB, see our No Child Left Behind webpages.
To see all publications the ACLU-NJ has available, please visit our Publications library.