Two things I’ve learned over the years that I’ve worked with LGBT students at the American Civil Liberties Union are that many school administrators and teachers don’t have the slightest clue about what their students’ legal rights are, and that a lot of the ones who do know go right ahead and violate students’ rights anyway because they think they can get away with it.
The only way to be sure that your school will respect and uphold your legal rights is for YOU to educate yourself about what your rights are and hold your school to its responsibility to protect and enforce them.
That’s never more true than during Day of Silence, an annual event designed to bring attention to the bullying, harassment, and name-calling LGBT students often experience in school. Here are four things you need to know about your rights as you mark Day of Silence this year on Friday, April 16.
- You DO have a right to participate in Day of Silence and other expressions of your opinion at a public school during non-instructional time: the breaks between classes, before and after the school day, lunchtime, and any other free times during your day. If your principal or a teacher tells you otherwise, you should contact our office or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
- You do NOT have a right to remain silent during class time if a teacher asks you to speak. If you want to stay quiet during class on Day of Silence, we recommend that you talk with your teachers ahead of time, tell them that you plan to participate in Day of Silence and why it’s important to you, and ask them if it would be okay for you to communicate in class on that day in writing. Most teachers will probably say yes.
- Your school is NOT required to “sponsor” Day of Silence. But Day of Silence is rarely a school-sponsored activity to begin with — it’s almost always an activity led by students. So don't be confused - just because your school isn’t officially sponsoring or participating in Day of Silence doesn’t mean that you can’t participate.
- Students who oppose Day of Silence DO have the right to express their views, too. Like you, they must do so in a civil, peaceful way and they only have a right to do so during noninstructional time. For example, they don’t have a right to skip school on Day of Silence without any consequences, just as you don't have a right to skip school just because you don’t like what they think or say.
If you’re concerned that your school might forbid you from participating in Day of Silence, you might want to print out the ACLU’s “Letter to Educators about the Day of Silence” and give it to your school administrators. Tell them they should show the letter to the school’s lawyer. The letter explains what schools’ responsibilities are regarding Day of Silence.
And for more information on your rights in public schools, check out the ACLU’s website.