6 teen rights you should be aware of
Being detained. Being barred. Being searched. Think you don't have a say? Think again. Teens are entitled to their rights under the law...and here are some you should know about.
You’re at the mall and just finished drooling over some earrings. You walk out of the store and a security guard approaches you and says, “Come with me.” What should you do?
Many stores have security staff, but laws vary in each state as to what they can do. Some have a relaxed law saying that if personnel believe you’ve shoplifted, they can hold you for a short time to recover stolen merchandise. Other states are stricter: Before you can be stopped, someone must have seen you hide the item and leave without paying for it. Then they must approach you outside of the store. If they don’t follow those rules, they could be liable for a bevy of violations. Best advice if you are innocent yet busted? Calmly tell the security officer that you haven’t stolen anything and that you are leaving. If he or she tries to physically take you somewhere, tell him not to touch you and you will wait outside the store until the police arrive. And remember: You don’t have to tell the police *anything* without your parents or a lawyer present.
Big announcement at practice: Everyone on your team is going to be drug-tested. Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?
Although many schools do not allow drug testing, it’s legal if there is suspicion that a student is using. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school officials are allowed to give random urine tests to students involved in athletics or other voluntary extracurricular activities. The idea is to deter kids from using illegal substances. But, depending on the laws in your state, you do have the right to vocally oppose random drug testing as well as legally challenge the test. Of course, drug testing is rarely announced ahead of time—so it’s important to know your school’s policy and your state’s stance.
Your least favorite person in the world had her wallet swiped—and someone claims you did it. The vice principal calls you in and says your locker will be searched. Can they do that?
Even if another student unfairly accuses you, school officials can rifle through your locker. Under the law, to search your locker, they only need a reasonable suspicion you may have broken the law or school rules. Many schools go even further, allowing searches of your locker at any time simply because they own the property. It’s also good to be aware that you can have your pockets, backpack and lunch bag searched at any time.
Just about everyone heads to the school store for pre-gym munchies. One day, you notice a new sign in the window: “Only one student at a time.” Isn’t that discrimination?
Stand in line, because it’s usually legal. While some states have exceptions, federal law generally prohibits discrimination in places of “public accommodation” (including places that offer food). These places need to make their businesses available without discriminating against race, color, religion or national origin—but nowhere in that list is there a category for students.
You went to a party last weekend and things got out of control. Just when you thought it was history, you get called into the principal’s office and told that you and the other partygoers will not be allowed to attend any school events for the rest of the year because they heard there was drinking. Can your school enact consequences for things you do even when you’re *not* at school?
If you are banned from all school events just because you were at a party where there was drinking, your school is skating on thin ice. You have rights under the U.S. Constitution, and one of them is due process. Basically, that means you must be adequately notified of charges against you, given the opportunity to be heard, informed of the evidence and allowed to have witnesses. Some schools state they can punish you for anything questionable you do outside of school, while others only focus on things that happen during school hours or at school events. And it is common for schools to prohibit students from extracurriculars if they screw up. But first, all students must be given the right to due process. If your school refuses you that right, call the ACLU in your state for advice on how to proceed.
Your first soccer practice of the year was a killer and you can’t wait to rehydrate with a sports drink. But when you go to buy a bottle, you discover all sports drinks and sodas have been removed from the vending machines. Um, what!?
To comply with the new U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, schools can only offer water, low-fat and no-fat milk and 100 percent juice. The argument is that not only are sugary drinks bad for you, they’re causing obesity among America’s kids. So if you need your electrolyte x, stash some sips from home in your gym bag—the sales ban is legal.
They fought for free speech...and won
In October 2010, Brianna Hawk and Kayla Martinez, then 12 and 13, sported the popular “I Heart Boobies (Keep A Breast)” bracelets to their Easton, Pa., school as part of breast cancer awareness month. According to court documents, teachers were concerned about the bracelets being a “disruption” (citing a male student who chanted, “Boobies! Boobies!” during lunch), and the bracelets were banned. Claiming their right to free speech, Brianna and Kayla continued to wear the bracelets—and received an in-school suspension. Plus, they were barred from attending the school’s Winter Ball. With the support of their families, the girls sued the school district for a violation of their right to free speech...and won. After the district appealed the case, it wound up going to the Supreme Court. But the court declined to hear the case, saying that the girls clearly had the law on their side. Brianna, now 19, says the ruling proves that it’s important to stand up—and speak up—no matter how old you are. “Speaking out about issues that really matter to young people truly makes a difference, even if you’re only in seventh grade,” she says.
This article appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Girls' Life.