"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."
--Justice Abe Fortas, Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969
Free Speech in Schools
In the landmark 1969 ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court found that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The ACLU argued the case on behalf of Mary Beth Tinker, defending her right to wear a black armband at school to protest the Vietnam War. We continue to fight for students' constitutional rights. Violations of the rights of students are far too common in public schools across the country. Articles for student newspapers are censored. Lockers, back packs and even students are searched without reasonable suspicion. Female students are excluded from certain extracurricular activities, and gay students are intimidated into silence. Despite court rulings that have limited student rights', the ACLU believes that all individuals should enjoy a right to freedom of speech, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion without government intrusion.
The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the national trend of criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation's children. The ACLU
is working to challenge numerous policies and practices within public school systems and the juvenile justice system that
contribute to the school to prison pipeline
and deprive students of their basic rights to due process and equal protection.
Zero-tolerance policies, expulsions and suspensions, and high-stakes testing are applied inconsistently to minority youth around the country and here in South
Dakota. Students with learning disabilities and mental and psychological problems
are also at risk under rigid policies.
Minority youth are seriously over-represented
at every point of the juvenile justice system. Youth of color are more likely to be arrested, detained, tried and committed than white youth. The situation is equally grim on the federal level, where 61 percent of adjudicated juveniles held in the Federal Bureau of Prisons are Native American. Such startling numbers demonstrate the need for state and federal reform. The ACLU actively supports efforts to remedy the disproportionate impact that policies and practices both within schools and the juvenile justice system have on youth and youth of color. It supports prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitative efforts to break the pipeline to prison.
The ACLU brought a ground breaking law suit against the Winner School District in South Dakota because of the district's treatment of native students. In March of 2006, a complaint was filed in federal district court on behalf of Native American families with children in the Winner School District. The class action lawsuit claimed that the schools discriminated against Native American students when disciplining, were hostile toward Native American families, and took statements from students involved in disciplinary matters that were later used to prosecute them in juvenile and criminal courts.
A settlement agreement was reached on June 18, 2007 which was approved by a federal court in December of 2007. As a result, the district enacted policies and practices to ensure that the rights of Native American students are not violated and to enrich the educational experience of all students. The ACLU is now working with school officials, educational experts and the tribal community to achieve the goals set forth in the consent decree to improve the educational environment for all students at the Winner school.
- Read a copy of the Complaint filed against Winner School District
- Read a copy of the Consent Decree that was entered into