Civil Liberties in Schools
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There is a worrying trend in the educational arena concerning the violation of civil rights of students in learning institutions. Most of the policies employed in public schools lead to an increasing number of juvenile cases. There is, therefore, a need to re-evaluate the policies and come up with a system that is acceptable to parents, children, and institutions of learning. This paper will explore some of the policies and practices that can be regarded as direct violation of students’ civil rights by school administrators.
Most schools across the globe have established their own uniforms. All stakeholders have raised their arguments concerning the right dress code that ought to be adopted by each learning institution (Ball, 2006). Most schools ponder over what dress code to choose among so many alternatives and whether it would respect the constitution.
There are several arguments that favor wearing school uniforms. According to recent studies, wearing uniforms can help deal with many cases of indiscipline as well as with low academic performances. Indeed, strict adherence to a defined dress code helps improve the learning atmosphere in school, thus leading to enhanced academic performance. Moreover, it is argued that uniforms are integral to achieving professionalism and safety, which are the key tenets in the delivery of high-quality education (Kelly, 2008).
However, not everyone stands for the adoption of a dress code in schools. To some extent, forcing students to wear school uniforms is an infringement of students’ right to freedom of expression, as highlighted under the First Amendment (Kelly, 2008). Moreover, wearing of school uniforms interferes with a students’ “natural tendency to experiment with their identities” (Ball, 2006).
Another aspect where students’ civil liberties have been violated deal with mandatory drug testing in schools. Schools nowadays test students by “mouth swab for traces of heroin, cocaine, marijuana” (Ball, 2006). These tests are in direct violation of students’ right to privacy and are vulnerable to legal suits. Indeed, if the tests are carried further, they might be eroding students’ objections to such tests. Moreover, drug testing in schools is in contravention of privacy in other areas such as Britain, “where closed-circuit television cameras are ubiquitous and law makers are debating identity cards that would store biometric data such as fingerprints or iris scans” (Free Speech Rights of Students). It is highly likely that students who refuse testing could be branded as criminals. Therefore, drug tests are imprecise and “violate students’ basic rights” (Ball, 2006).
Freedom of speech is another students’ right that is violated by learning institutions. It is estimated that two thirds of schools in America maintain speech codes that go against the First Amendment. Indeed, research findings indicate that 67 % of public schools and 65% of private schools received condemnation from several non-profit organizations for practicing of policies that went against students civil rights. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), most schools “clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech” (Free Speech Rights of Students). According to FIRE, whereas public schools are forbidden from infringing on the rights of students’ freedom of speech, private institutions are not. One of the best-known court cases that dealt with freedom of speech is the Tinker vs Des Moines ruling (Ball, 2006).
According to the Tinker vs Des Moines, students do not lose their constitutional rights when they enter the school gates. In this case, it was found that “the First Amendment protected the rights of students to wear black armbands in a public high school” (Free Speech Rights of Students). On the other hand, the Bezel vs Hazelwood provided a relief to school administrators over the claims of students under the First Amendment. The Court held that school administrators were at liberty to discipline students who engaged in a speech that violated the set rules or that interfered with legitimate goals of the schools (Ball, 2006).
In summary, enforcing discipline and order at schools has become a challenging task for administrators. On the one hand, schools should run smoothly, and set standards should be maintained in the learning institutions. On the other hand, there is a need to ensure that the rights of students are not violated by school rules and regulations. In such a case, the Courts are better placed to guarantee the needed balance between the two conflicting scenarios.
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