What are Students' Rights?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Students' rights are rights extended to people attending educational institutions, from elementary schools to universities. Students are entitled to the same rights as the rest of the population, but some special concerns arise in the academic environment and are addressed with specific policies and laws. These vary considerably by nation, and people interested in knowing their rights as students while they are studying abroad should familiarize themselves with the law.

Students' rights are balanced with issues such as safety.
Students' rights are balanced with issues such as safety.

Some students' rights are derived from larger social rights. For example, many societies believe in the right to privacy, and restrict the release of information about students. Transcripts can only be provided by court order or when a student formally requests them, and schools cannot provide information about who is enrolled and must take reasonable steps to protect the privacy of their students. Likewise, confidential information like numbers associated with government identifications or health records kept at a school must be secured.

With students below the age of majority, students' rights balance the school's need to keep students safe and look after them while they are in the care of the school with the desire to avoid infringing on the personal rights of individual students. Usually, parents must be consulted before students are taken off campus on field trips, for example, and certain aspects of the curriculum must be cleared with parents first. Parents are given the right to refuse some parts of the curriculum on behalf of their children; a child who doesn't want to participate in biology dissections, for example, could ask for a parental note.

Students below the age of majority can also face restrictions on their behavior and activity, such as being obliged to wear uniforms. In countries where free speech is protected, it may not always be in the academic environment, as schools may argue that some kinds of speech are disruptive and could interfere with the educational mission of the school. Likewise, students may be compelled to participate in activities they do not want to do if they wish to maintain their enrollment in the school, something that would normally be considered a violation of rights for members of the general population.

At colleges and universities, where most students are legal adults, students' rights can become more complicated. Students usually expect to be able to exercise more rights and may protest if a school restricts free speech or places other limitations on their behavior. Students may also view things like controlled tuition and access to school facilities like libraries and laboratories as rights, a situation that sometimes creates friction on campuses. Protests over students' rights can occur when policy changes are proposed on a national or institutional level.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My school had a big issue with students' rights in the form of what was open on Sundays. It was a religious school, and some things had limited hours Sunday mornings. Some students got angry that the library was closed, even though it was open extensive hours the rest of the week. There were many other places to study, and people who worked there were not interested in working Sundays either.

You can probably tell what my opinion was on the debate...it was not a wholly religious idea to me, but I mainly feel that students' rights do not extend to deciding when every single thing on campus will be opened or closed.

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