Students' Rights - Court Cases, Legislation, News, Fact Sheets


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Students' Rights


Protecting the rights of students is key because most people’s first major encounter with the government is in the school setting. For students to appreciate the importance of civil liberties, it is critical that their rights be protected in school.

Students' Rights in the News

  • Jun, 01, 2018: Some RI School Districts Remain Non-Compliant with Trans Student Policy Requirement
  • Apr, 13, 2018: ACLU Appeals Court Ruling in Providence Student Housing Case
  • Mar, 29, 2018: ACLU Applauds Filing of Formal Regulations to Protect Rights of Trans Students

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Students' Rights Related Court Cases

2016: Federal Hill Capital v. City of Providence
Category: Active Case    Discrimination    Due Process    Students' Rights    

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit against the City of Providence challenging a city ordinance that prohibits more than three “college students” from living together in certain areas of the city.  The lawsuit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, is on behalf of the owner and tenants of a house in the Elmhurst section of Providence. The suit argues that the ordinance violates the plaintiffs’ rights to due process and equal protection of the law.

Current Status:
In February 2018, the Court ruled against the rights of the college students. The ACLU of RI is considering appealing the ruling to the RI Supreme Court.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Jeffrey L. Levy, Charles D. Blackman

Supporting Documents
2015: J.A. v. Town of Tiverton
Category: Due Process    Privacy    Students' Rights    

About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against Tiverton police and school officials over an incident in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, had her belongings searched, was taken alone to the police station without her parents’ knowledge, and then held and questioned at the police station for several hours before being released. The seizure, detention, and interrogation of the young child were based solely on unsubstantiated claims from another child that the girl was carrying “chemicals” in her backpack, and occurred even after the police found nothing suspicious in the backpack.

Current Status:
Lawsuit successfully settled in June 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Amato A. DeLuca, Miriam Weizenbaum

Supporting Documents

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Students' Rights Related Legislation

School Resources Officers (H7200A, Article 9)
Category: 2018    First Amendment Rights    Students' Rights    

Buried within the 2019 budget is a provision greatly expanding the number of School Resource Officers monitoring our childrens' behavior for criminality. By offering three years worth of funds to school districts to pay the officers' salaries, the state has made it all but inevitable that every school in Rhode Island will have an officer in their halls in the near future. Yet, the problems that come with SROs remain unaddressed. The ACLU and other groups advocated for language clarifying the responsibilities and limitations of SROs, but no language was included in the approved budget. 

School Security (H 7850)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

This legislation is one of many introduced this year seeking to improve school security, often by imposing law enforcement-type measures into the school setting. The ACLU appreciates the intent, but are concerned about the over-criminalization of youthful behavior. School resource officers are increasingly used to provide routine school discipline, often escalating minor infractions into arrests, and research paints a very nuanced picture of the effect these officers have on school safety. The ACLU testified before the House Finance Committee in opposition to this bill in May.

Arming Campus Police (H 7938)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

Following an active shooter scare on the campus of the University of Rhode Island in 2013, every public higher education institution in the state was given authority to decide whether or not to arm their campus police. Only the University of Rhode Island chose to arm their campus police. Under House bill 7938, all campus police would become armed, regardless of the decisions already made on this matter or the wishes of school administration or students. 

The ACLU testified before the House Judiciary committee in opposition to this legislation in May. There is a tremendous danger inherent in introducing guns to college campuses.  While there is always the hypothetical situation in which campus law enforcement officers could benefit from being armed, it is a certainty that introducing weapons to college campuses brings with it the very real danger of accidental discharges and tragic cases of misunderstandings and misidentifications. 

Right to Education (H 7696, S 2181)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

More than twenty years ago, the Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected a lower court ruling that our state Constitution guaranteed children the right to an “equal, adequate and meaningful education.” Four years ago, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that decision, saying it was “sensitive” to the concerns that the state’s school funding formula created unfair disparities between poor, urban schools and more affluent communities, but that it was bound by the previous precedent to reject this newer constitutional challenge to the formula.

This important amendment proposed as Joint Resolutions S-2181, sponsored by Sen. Roger Picard, and H-7696, sponsored by Rep. Mary Messier, revise the language in the Article to be more explicit about its goal, and establish the right to an adequate education for Rhode Island’s youth as a fundamental and judicially enforceable right. The ACLU of Rhode Island supports these efforts to resolve inequality in education throughout the state.

Over the Counter Medication in Schools (H 7570, S 2340)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

Current Department of Health regulations, opposed by the ACLU, require parental permission for students to carry and self-administer any OTC medication in school. While this absurd zero-tolerance rule should never have been enacted in the first place, legislation was introduced last year to create a statutory exception for one medication – sunscreen. This new proposal, sponsored by Rep. Susan Donovan (H 7570) and Sen. Jeanine Calkin (S 2340) further highlights the ridiculousness of the current policy by also allowing students to bring to school over-the-counter products to treat menstrual cramps or vaginal yeast infections without a doctor’s or parent’s note. The ACLU testified before the House Health, Education and Welfare and Senate Education committees in March; you can read our testimony here. 

School Computer Privacy (H 7710, S 2644)
Category: 2018    Students' Rights    

In recent years, school districts statewide have begun handing out school-owned computers for at-home use by students. These devices carry virtually no privacy protections, allowing schools to spy on students at home. The ACLU is a strong supporter of legislation introduced by Rep. Jeremiah O'Grady (H 7710) and Sen. Adam Satchell (S 2644) allowing school officials to search the devices only when there is reasonable suspicion to believe the child has engaged in misconduct and prohibit remote access except in limited circumstances. In 2017, the ACLU published a report, entitled “High School Non-Confidential,” which highlighted the need for this legislation.