Constitutional Rights of Students & Parents in Educational Settings

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  • 0:04 Student & Parent Rights
  • 0:23 Bill of Rights
  • 2:58 FERPA
  • 4:03 Parental Rights Amendment
  • 4:59 Legislation & Legal Decisions
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

As Americans, our government guarantees us certain rights regardless of age, religion, gender, race, and disabilities. In this lesson, we'll discuss some of the rights held by students and parents within a school setting.

Student & Parent Rights

Every citizen of the United States enjoys basic fundamental rights. Although schools have an obligation to manage students in a way that promotes their primary purpose, students do not lose their rights when they come to school. Let's talk about some of the legislation and legal decisions related to student and parental rights.

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution outlines basic rights that the founding fathers believed should be protected by the government for every citizen. The First Amendment promises freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble. Although the right to free speech is limited if it interferes with the educational mission of the school, the Tinker vs. Des Moines prohibits schools from denying teachers and students their First Amendment rights. In this case, students in the Des Moines school district wanted to wear black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. The district threatened to and then suspended the students for wearing the arm bands, after which their parents filed suit. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students had the right to wear the arm bands because the school was unable to prove that the armbands interfered with the operation of the school.

The First Amendment also protect students' rights to intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is the right to receive information from alternative perspectives that have not been censored. Courts look more favorably upon educators' decisions that are based on sound educational principals rather than from the desire to conform to popular political or religious viewpoints. For example, decisions about what constitutes age-appropriate educational purchases are not considered censorship, but removing materials based on objections to material that is already available in the library is considered censorship. Nearly every relevant piece of literature may be considered offensive to someone due to profanity, sex, violence, religion, racism, or political views. But, if school districts removed every piece of curriculum that someone objected to, not much would be left to teach students about the human experience from multiple points of view. Most school districts adopt formal policies for making complaints that clarify the criteria used for removing materials, and materials should never be removed unless the proper procedure is followed.

Fourth Amendment rights of students have also been argued in court. To what degree are students protected against illegal search and seizure at school? In New Jersey v. TLO, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the school's decision to search a student's purse after she was caught smoking in the hall. While searching the purse, the assistant principal found drug paraphernalia and contacted the police. The Court did not consider this a violation of the student's Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure because it felt that the school had a reasonable suspicion.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the confidentiality of students' educational records. Parents have rights until the student reaches the age of eighteen, when rights are transferred to the child. According to FERPA, parents and students have the right to review a student's educational records, although schools are not required to make copies and may charge a fee for requested copies. Parents and students may formally request that inaccurate or misleading records be changed. However, if the school chooses not to change the records, a student or parent may attach a statement to the record. Schools must have written permission from a parent or student to release records, except to those with a legitimate interest, such as schools of transfer. Schools may also publish directory information without consent but must notify parents of the right to have their child's directory information withheld. Directories usually include things like grade level, name, birthday, and other basic information typically found in graduation programs, school newsletters, and similar publications.

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