April 23, 2008
Here at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, we get calls and emails from students all over the country who have questions about things that have happened to them at school. Two things we've learned over the years are that many school administrators and teachers don't have the slightest clue about students' legal rights, and that some do know what students' rights are but violate them anyway because they think they can get away with it.
Students and parents, you simply can't be sure that your school will respect and uphold your legal rights. It's up to YOU to educate yourself about what your rights are and hold your school to its responsibility to protect and enforce them.
That's something you should always keep in mind, but especially 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 Friday, April 25.
- 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 to your teachers ahead of time, tell them what you plan to do, and ask them if it would be okay for you to communicate on that day in writing. Most teachers will probably say yes.
- Your school is NOT required to 'sponsor' Day of Silence. A lot of schools this year are announcing that they aren't sponsoring Day of Silence due to pressure from national anti-gay groups. 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 is saying that the school won't officially sponsor or participate in Day of Silence doesn't mean that it's saying 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 must limit their expression to non-instructional time. They do NOT 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.
For more information on Day of Silence, check out the website. And for more information on your rights in public schools, check out our website.