Youth and Student Rights

Students from Fenway High School

ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Sarah Wunsch (center, second row) and Bill of Rights Education Project director Nancy Murray (kneeling front) with students from Fenway High School who visited the ACLU office to learn about the Bill of Rights and our work.

In 1943, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights applied to public schools and upheld the rights of students to choose whether to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Justice Robert Jackson wrote that the constitutional rights of students must be protected “if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.”

The ACLU, like Justice Jackson, maintains that if students have no direct experience of rights, they would come to think that vital principles of our government are little more than words on paper. For this reason, we have worked with students to ensure that they have an understanding of the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and a place to turn when they feel their rights have been violated.

The ACLU has challenged policies or practices that interfere with students' freedom of expression, restrict their freedom to learn about and grapple with controversial ideas, deny them equal access to education, impose discipline in ways that compromise due process protections, and push them out of school and into the criminal justice system. We are particularly concerned about the tendency of rights-restricting policies to be enforced in ways that exacerbate racial and socioeconomic inequities. We have also protected teachers’ First Amendment rights, and given them the tools to discuss the difficult issues being debated in society and the courts, seeing this as essential to the future of our democracy.

Read more about specific Youth/Student Rights topics

Juvenile Justice

School-to-Prison Pipeline

Student Rights


Arrested Futures

Know Your Rights

Rights Matter

Students: Know Your Rights

Legal Cases

MBTA v. Anderson