American Civil Liberties Union Briefer ASK SYBIL LIBERTY Sybil says: SPEAK OUT! ORGANIZE!

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American Civil Liberties Union Briefer ASK SYBIL LIBERTY Sybil says: SPEAK OUT! ORGANIZE! GET INVOLVED! We spend a big part of our life in school, so . . .let's make a difference -- * join the student government * attend school board meetings * petition the school administration. * debate among yourselves ******************* YOUR RIGHT TO EQUAL TREATMENT ******************* Students, listen up: An important part of our education is learning how to participate fully in the life of this nation. In order to participate, we need to keep in mind two very important things. First, the Constitution is the highest law of this land. Second, the Constitution has a Bill of Rights that protects the freedoms of each and every American. That includes you and me, the young people of this country. So my message to you is KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS. Our public education system exists to provide an education to *all* students, equally. This principle was established as the law of the land by the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case called _Brown v. Board of Education_. The Constitution guarantees your right not to be discriminated against in school based on your race, ethnic background, religion or sex, and regardless of whether your family is rich or poor. In addition to that constitutional protection, lots of federal, state and local laws also protect students against discrimination based on disability, pregnancy and sexual orientation. ================================================================== Sybil, the coach wouldn't let me join the soccer team just because I'm a girl. Can he do that? ================================================================== SYBIL: Sports programs in public schools aren't allowed to discriminate against girls or boys, which means that a sports activity can't be offered only to boys or only to girls. Some schools make exceptions for contact sports like football, or where students have to compete with each other on the basis of skill for places on a particular team. In most places, a school can set up separate teams for girls and boys as long as the sport is offered to both sexes. ================================================================== I'm gay and I want to bring a guy, as my date, to the senior prom. Can school officials say no to that? ================================================================== SYBIL: They might, although in the one case where this issue came before a court, the court ruled that preventing a gay student from bringing his male date to a school dance violated his rights. Whether you're lesbian, gay or straight, as a public school student you're entitled to the same privileges as any other student, and school officials aren't supposed to violate your rights just because they may not like your sexual orientation. Unfortunately, while a small (though increasing) number of states and municipalities have passed laws that forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation, public high schools have been slow to establish their own anti-bias codes and slow to respond to incidents of harassment and discrimination against lesbian and gay students. So even though, in theory, you can take a guy to the prom, join or help form a gay group at school or write an article about lesbian/gay issues for the school paper, in practice gay students still have to fight hard to have their rights respected. If you feel you're being mistreated by students, teachers or the school administration because you're gay, your local ACLU can tell you how to fight back. ========================================================== What if I'm pregnant, Sybil? Can I be kept out of school? ========================================================== SYBIL: No. School officials are not allowed to keep you from attending classes, graduation ceremonies, extracurricular activities or any other school activity -- except maybe a strenuous sport. There's a federal law called Title IX (9) of the Education Amendments of 1972 that bans schools from discriminating against married or pregnant students. You have as much right to a high school education as any other student. ================================================================== I truly believe my teacher gives me a hard time just because I'm a person of color. Is there anything I can do to change that? ================================================================== SYBIL: Yes there is, and you *should* do something. The federal Constitution, state constitutions *and* various federal and state laws all forbid the personnel and administrators at your school from discriminating against you because of your race, the country you or your family came from originally or your religion. If you feel that you or someone you know is being discriminated against, speak up: Talk to a teacher, the principal, the head of a community organization or a lawyer so they can investigate the situation. If necessary, you can take legal action. ================================================================= I tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Do I have the right to be treated the same as other students? ================================================================= SYBIL: Yes! The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with HIV disease against discrimination in schools and in many other "public accommodations," such as stores, museums and hotels. This means you have the right to go to school like any other student. It's a medical fact that the AIDS virus can't be spread through casual contact. That's why the ADA, as well as other federal and local laws, forbid discrimination against people like yourself. You're not a threat to other people's health just by having HIV or AIDS. If you think your school is discriminating against you because you're HIV-positive, contact your local ACLU for information about what legal action you should take. ============================================================== My school uses a tracking system, and most of the kids in the bottom tracks are from poor and minority families. Isn't that discrimination? ============================================================== SYBIL: It sure looks that way, doesn't it? Almost all public schools have tracking systems that're supposed to separate students according to learning ability, but studies have revealed that factors other than learning ability may be determining which of us get placed in which tracks. The standards and tests school officials use in deciding on track placements are often based on racial and class prejudices and stereotypes, rather than on our real abilities and learning potential. As a result, it's usually the white, middle-class kids who end up in the college prep classes, while poor and non-white students, and kids whose first language isn't English, end up in "slow" tracks and vocational-training classes. And often, the lower the track you're in, the less you're taught. =================================================== Can I challenge my placement in a particular track? =================================================== SYBIL: If it's not the track you want to be in, you should. All the tracks are supposed to give the same courses -- the higher tracks on a more advanced level, the lower tracks on a less advanced level but, basically, the same education. If the track they put you in gives you a completely different education than you would get in the highest track, then make an issue of it. Even if you have low grades or nobody in your family ever went to college, if you want to go to college then you should demand the type of education you need to realize your dreams. And your guidance counselor should help you get it! Your local ACLU can tell you the details of how to go about challenging your track placement. +-------------------------------------------------------+ | "The opportunity of an education . . . is a right | | which must be made available to all on equal terms." | | | | U.S. Supreme Court | | Brown v. Board of Education (1954) | +-------------------------------------------------------+ =============================================================== I'm not an American citizen. Do I have the same constitutional rights citizens have? =============================================================== Yes! If you're a permanent resident -- that is, a "green card" holder -- or even if you're in the U.S. illegally, you're still entitled to the same constitutional protections an American citizen receives. All of the rights set forth in the Constitution's Bill of Rights are guaranteed to *all* people living in this country, regardless of their nationality or citizenship status. And even if you're not a citizen, you have the right to a free public education -- which means the administrators of your school can't treat you any differently from any other student. Your local ACLU office can answer other questions you have about your right to equal treatment in school and your other constitutional rights. To obtain a copy of _The Rights of Students_, a 181-page ACLU Handbook, send name, address, & check/money order for $6.95 to ACLU Dept. L, PO Box 794, Medford, NY 11763. A C L U Produced by the Public Education Department American Civil Liberties Union 132 West 43rd Street New York, N.Y. 10036


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