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Student rights are those rights which protect students, here meaning those persons attending schools, universities and other educational institutions. The level of rights accorded to students, whether legally or by convention, varies considerably around the world.

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Student rights around the world

France

In 2000, in the AlBaho Case, a French criminal court found three senior academics at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI), guilty of email espionage on a graduate (doctoral) student. The ruling set an important precedent in e-mail privacy but it was also a landmark ruling in student rights since this was the only known incident where academic staff where found guilty of a criminal act as a result of a complaint made by a student - and where those staff members had the full support of their institution.

United States

Primary and Secondary Schools

In 1969, the United States federal courts, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, ruled that, "Students do not shed their constitutional rights... at the schoolhouse gate." The Morse v. Frederick trial was a First Amendment student free speech case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on March 19, 2007. The case involves Joseph Frederick, a then 18-year-old high school senior in Juneau, Alaska, now 24, who was suspended for 10 days after displaying a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner across the street from his high school during the Winter Olympics Torch Relay in 2002.[1]

In addition to the United States Constitution granting Freedom of Expression Rights to public school students, some state constitutions afford greater rights to public school students than those granted by the United States Constitution. For example, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 71, sec. 82 grants broader rights to public secondary school schools regarding Rights of Students to Freedom of Expression. It states:

Chapter 71: Section 82. Public secondary schools; right of students to freedom of expression; limitations; definitions

Section 82. The right of students to freedom of expression in the public schools of the commonwealth shall not be abridged, provided that such right shall not cause any disruption or disorder within the school. Freedom of expression shall include without limitation, the rights and responsibilities of students, collectively and individually, (a) to express their views through speech and symbols, (b) to write, publish and disseminate their views, (c) to assemble peaceably on school property for the purpose of expressing their opinions. Any assembly planned by students during regularly scheduled school hours shall be held only at a time and place approved in advance by the school principal or his designee. No expression made by students in the exercise of such rights shall be deemed to be an expression of school policy and no school officials shall be held responsible in any civil or criminal action for any expression made or published by the students. For the purposes of this section and sections eighty-three to eighty-five, inclusive, the word student shall mean any person attending a public secondary school in the commonwealth. The word school official shall mean any member or employee of the local school committee.

The result is students in the public secondary schools of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are only held to the “Tinker” standard regarding Freedom of Expression.

Public Higher Education

Students in public higher education have substantially greater rights than students in primary and secondary education. First, the vast majority of students in public higher education are legal adults; thus, the state does not stand in loco parentis in relation to them, as they are their own guardians, possessing the same rights that all citizens have. In addition, public universities and colleges are institutions dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, the concept of academic freedom, and the concept of shared governance. This translates to the fact that free speech and participation in governance of the institution by students is common.

Students rights' in the context of higher education often extends to concepts like:

  • the right to form groups of their choosing to express their views, and receive funding for them;
  • the right to speak freely, assemble, and demonstrate;
  • the right to due process and an impartial hearing in any disciplinary matter;
  • the right to participate in the governance of the institution;
  • the right to make rules and regulations and have primary responsibility for the governance of student conduct;
  • the right to do as they will, so long as they harm no other;

Especially at large public research universities with large residential populations (flagship/land-grant universities) students organize around these issues using their student government and negotiate with the university administration on them.

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