Chicago Is In Deep Need Of A Student Bill Of Rights

Chicago Is In Deep Need Of A Student Bill Of Rights

Matthew Wilbourn

Chicago Is In Deep Need Of A Student Bill Of Rights

By: Matthew Wilbourn

Every year towards the end of the scholastic year, the Chicago school board officials review,  amend, or add codes and rules to the Student Code of Conduct. In the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, there is talk of adding a student “bill of rights” to the student handbook.

Historically the Supreme Court has made it clear that students do not “shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.” Yet despite this precedent, CPS students, teachers, administrators, and staff have been provided with no clear guidance as to the constitutional protections that students maintain while at school.

This is where the problem occurs. Student conduct and constitutional rights put together have many gray areas. While the supreme court’s word would sound like the end all be all, Chicago has remained lackadaisical and hesitant in its approach on the subject. I Am all for a student bill of rights, and letting students know they have such rights would bridge gaps in student, teacher, and administration relations.

Other districts are different. In New York City, the citywide handbook on student discipline includes a three-page list of student rights. These fall under four main categories: “The Right to a Free Public School Education,” “The Right to Freedom of Expression and Person,” “The Right to Due Process,” and “Additional Rights of Students 18 and Over.”

The listed rights under these categories include the rights to a safe and supportive learning environment; to participate in political, religious, and philosophical groups; to publish newspapers reflecting concerns and points of view about the school; to wear political buttons; to be free from indiscriminate searches; to decline to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance; to know possible dispositions and outcomes for specific offenses; and the right, for students over 18, to control all of their own school records.

. Having inalienable rights in the classroom would clear those grey areas, and provide a clear and solid foundation for students to voice themselves. Also this would improve student morale, making students feel like more than rightless bodies meant to produce work and would help overall self- esteem statistics.  

Finally, the addition of a bill of rights to the code of conduct would help to reframe the code as a document devoted to protecting students, not merely to disciplining them. The code of conduct is an intimidating document. It focuses overwhelmingly on the harsh punishments that students will receive if they misbehave.

Adding a list of individual liberties to the code, a student bill of rights would help to begin the school year by fostering a relationship of mutual respect between students and their schools.