The Relationship Between Supervision & the Rights of Students

Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

In this lesson, we will examine the relationship between the school's responsibility to supervise students and the student's rights as United States citizens.

Rights and Responsibilities

Students come to school with the same Constitutional rights as every other citizen of the United States. Schools are tasked with preserving students' rights. Schools are also responsible for making sure the school is orderly, safe, and conducive to learning. What happens when these two goals contradict each other? Let's discuss some legislation that can be used to guide educators towards preserving student rights while maintaining supervision.

First Amendment

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble. Teachers and students do not lose their First Amendment rights during school hours, but the right to free speech is limited when it interferes with the school's ability to function. In Tinker vs. Des Moines, courts did not support district officials who attempted to prevent students in the Des Moines school district from wearing black arm bands. There was insufficient proof that the students interfered with the operations of the school by expressing themselves in this way. Therefore the students could not be prohibited from wearing them as part of the school dress code.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens freedom against illegal search and seizure. How does that apply to schools? In New Jersey v. TLO, the Court agreed that the school's responsibility to supervise students outweighs the student's right to privacy when the school has probable cause. In this case, the assistant principal discovered drug paraphernalia in the student's purse upon searching it after catching the student smoking in the hall. When the school has reasonable suspicion, an individual student's belongings may be searched. It is important to note that individual school districts may have policies surrounding the search of students.

Court rulings such as Riley v. California indicate that schools should use caution when making the decision about whether or not to look at students' cell phones. Texting in class may be against school rules, but does not justify reading the student's texts in an attempt to find additional infractions against a student. Just as the school must be able to identify reasonable suspicion to look through a student's locker or backpack, the school must do the same when searching through a student's cell phone.


Many adults often have a natural tendency to want to protect the innocence of children by shielding them from too much information. As schools order materials, it is perfectly acceptable and expected that schools will carefully select age-appropriate material. However, schools can go too far in limiting students' intellectual freedom, which is the right to receive information from various perspectives without censorship. Schools can disrupt intellectual freedom when they remove relevant books from classrooms and libraries based on political or religious viewpoints of groups in the community.

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