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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

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How Do Students' Rights Compare to Adults' Rights?

Background

In the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, Justice Fortas wrote, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate . . . " This quotation is often used, but what does it mean? Do students have the same rights as adults?

If you think about it for a few minutes, you will realize that children don't have all of the same rights as adults. For instance, adults can drive cars, vote, and drink alcohol. Children can't do these things until they are 16, 18, and 21, depending on where they live. All of those rights involve situations outside of school. What about inside a school? In this activity, you'll examine some of the cases in which the Supreme Court of the United States has held that rights of students inside a school are not the same as rights of adults outside of school.

Directions:
  1. The left-hand column contains a list of general rights. Read that list.
  2. In the column labeled "Adult Rights," list the basic rights that adults have in each general area.
  3. From the column labeled "Student Rights" click on the link and read the abstract. Note the rights that the Supreme Court of the United States accorded to students. Write these down.
  4. Compare what you have written in the "Adult" column with what you have written in the "Student" column. In the final column, explain how adults' rights and students' rights differ in that particular area.

General Rights
Adult Rights
Student Rights
How Adults' Rights and Students' Rights Differ
Freedom of the press             Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
Freedom of speech Bethel v. Fraser
Search and seizure New Jersey v. T.L.O.
Drug testing Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton

Due Process

Goss v. Lopez
 

Questions to Consider:
  1. The Supreme Court of the United States has made decisions that give students fewer rights than adults would have in other settings. How do you think the Court justifies doing so?

  2. In a nonschool setting, are children's' rights restricted in the same way that they are in a school setting? Why do you think this is the case?

  3. In your opinion, should students and adults have the same rights? Why or why not?

< New Jersey v. T.L.O.