Speak Outs
Speak Out
Do students in charter schools have First Amendment rights?

March 5, 2014

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer

The first day of school is both an exciting and nerve-racking time. So imagine being told to leave school because of your tightly wound dreadlocks. That is what happened to 7-year-old Tiana Parker of Tulsa, Okla.

On her first day at Deborah Brown Community Charter School, Tiana was pulled out of class because she wore her hair in dreadlocks, which are forbidden by the school’s policy against “faddish” hair styles.

Can a school forbid a student from wearing dreadlocks? Tiana’s family argued that her First Amendment right to freedom of expression had been violated.

The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” Basically, this means that the government cannot restrict free speech or expression, although that right is not absolute. The Supreme Court has ruled in several cases, most notably in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, that schools, acting as a government, cannot limit freedom of expression. School dress codes fall under the First Amendment, and generally students can dress or wear their hair in any fashion as long as it does not distract or disrupt the school environment.

But there’s a slight twist to Tiana’s case. See the second-to-last word in Deborah Brown Community Charter School’s name: Charter. Even though public charter schools receive public money like traditional public schools, legally they are considered private organizations. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a public charter school in Arizona was a private entity.

So charter schools are considered to be more akin to private schools, which can establish their own guidelines on students’ rights since they do not receive government funds. If parents or students object to the rules, they can choose to leave the school.

In short, students in charter schools do not have First Amendment standing.

After a national uproar, the charter school altered its policy to allow dreadlocks. But Tiana’s family decided to keep her at another school, where she enrolled after the controversy.

What do you think?

Should students in charter schools have the same First Amendment rights as their public school counterparts? Should the fact that the schools are financed by public money determine whether they are public or private institutions? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Midlothian Middle
I definelty think that students in charter schools should have First Amendment Rights.Each person of the United States should have First Amendment Rights. Isn't our country supposed to work together and eventually be all equal as one. Our country has worked way to hard to just let these rights go into the drain and looking if we establish that type of attitude everyone will be striped away of their rights.

Colorado Springs, CO
Hayden Strait
The Classical Academy
I attend the The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs which is a charter school. I have wondered for a while if students, like myself, attending have first amendment rights or any rights for that matter. I determined we have no access to any of our rights except maybe first amendment rights, but i wasn't sure, so I did some research and I think i determined that we do not have any rights, at all. Except, maybe freedom of religion, but thats iffy at best, which i think is bull... Obviously private schools dont, and public schools do, but charter schools do receive public funding and thus should be held to the same laws and regulations. I think students should have free speech at charter schools, of course as long as it isnt presenting a clear and present danger, or disrupting the class, or slander or libel. but yet we dont. i dont have much else to say except i believe students should have that right since they attend a school that receives government funding and is public in the sense that they cannot refuse anyone for any reasons that public schools cant either. P.S. if you happen to live in CO, please for the love of your kids sanity and well being dont send them to TCA, it is terrible. The parents think its great, but if you asked any of the students i think the majority would leave if they felt they had the freedom to do so from their parents, the minority would probably at least want some MAJOR changes before they were"content"

Mrs. Wong/ Lorbeer
I believe that students in all schools have First Amendment rights - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, and freedom of speech. Whether they believe in a religion, dress differently, or speak different dialects, they are qualities of that person. Child or adult, citizens of the US have individual rights and boundaries. Each school and district have diverse systems, restrictions, and principles specific to it´s population. I believe that rules directly about personal topics and physical preference should not restrict their First Amendment rights to a certain degree, of which a student will be affected negatively, whether it be emotionally, mentally, or physically. Students, teachers, and staff alike could voice out opinions but not to an extent to when another individual is harmed in anyway. To be offended is different from being harmed. Offending people is obviously rude and disrespectful, and every individual has certain feeling they abide to, but it is not on the same level of cruelty as harming someone intentionally.

Diamond Bar, CA
I believe students in charter schools should have First Amendment rights because it applies to every citizen of the United States. Whether the school is being funded by the government or privately, students are still legal citizens of the United States. Therefore, their First Amendment rights should be protected.

Diamond Bar, CA
I have a mixed feeling about this topic. I would agree that charter schools have the right to establish restrictions when it comes to self-expression. But then again, students should have their right to freedom of speech and self-expression. However, I do not see how dreadlocks express anything whatsoever except a hairstyle preference. Since this is a weak form of self-expression, I think students should follow rules regarding self-expression such as this, and that the schools have the right to limit it.

Murrieta, CA
Jacob strommen
Mr.Jabro/creekside highschool
I think that kids should have a right to express them selves in anyway they seem fit and should be allowed to have a way to be individual without being penalized. It would be selfish to have all the kids to look the same and act the same as you want them to. there should be a law that lets the kids and another person be there own person.

Mr.Fite/ Canton Prep
Tania Parker should not have been punished for wearing dreadlocks because what how she styles herself is protected by the First/Ninth Amendment and does not harm or threaten the rights of any other citizens, which is what the amendments were made for. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech" and the freedom of speech has been interpreted in several ways as time passed. One of those interpretations included "to engage in symbolic speech" which was made after the Texas v Johnson case. This symbolic speech involves basically any form of expression and can be translated to defend Tiana. The Ninth Amendment also protects Tiana because it states that it protects any other rights "that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution". This includes something as simple as Tiana's case which is the way one styles their hair. Not to mention that punishing Tiana for how she wears her hair is useless because her hair does not pose a threat to the other students. The amendments were made to protect and state the rights of all citizens. So punishing someone for something as ridiculous and accepted as expressing themselves is beyond unreasonable, it is unconstitutional. All in all, Tiana is a great example of why charter school students have the same First Amendment rights as any other student or citizen.

bay city michigan
ms.ebenhoeh bay city academy
Bruh my school dont allow hair dye I dyed my hair anf so did a few of my friends one got suspended for it but the oth err bsix didnt they tried but we argued now we have a meeting with the super attendent for it

murrieta ca
elizabeth padilla
Mr. jabro/ creeksidehigh
i honestly think this is ridiculous, regardless if its a charter school or not everyone has the right to express themselves the way they want, nobody can stop them from being themselves. the girl was basically being judged and criticized by the way she had her hair.

Students in charter schools should absolutely have the same rights as their public counterparts. The first amendment applies to every individual citizen, no matter what school you attend. It shouldn't matter where you are funded from, each student should be able to express themselves whether it's through dress or a hairstyle. Just because the government does or doesn't provide funds should have nothing to do with a students ability to express themselves to a point. As stated before, if it is a distraction of course there can be actions taken but in this case, I feel it was wrong.

Murrieta / California
Ziona M
Jabro / Creekside High School
I do Believe charter school students should have the same rights as public school students. They are getting the same education so why shouldn't they have the same rights? I think it is unfair for students to not be able to express themselves the way other students are allowed to. I believe charter school students should be able to still do things that public school students, do .

Belleville NY
Colby/ Belleville Henderson
My opinion is that if you're paying to go to this school than you should abide by their rules. Most can't afford the "high quality" education that those of a private or charter school get. charter schools have way more funds to throw around to make their education, sports, and even theatre classes and extracurricular activities better. whereas, in public schools funds come from the parents of the students taxes, and if you live in a small area taxes are either higher or you don't get much. so in conclusion, if you can afford to go to a top quality school and your family is paying for it and can afford to pay for it, you better be darn happy that you are getting something as good as that and you better be following whatever rules and regulations that school has for it's students!

Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I believe that students should be able to wear what they want and look how they want in a charter school. It's basically like telling someone not to express themselves. I have been to a charter school and I had a friend that would dye her hair a different vibrant color each month, I think she, and other people would be upset if someone were to tell her she couldn't have her hair dyed colors like that. It is unjust.

Stroudsburg, PA
Mr.Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I think schools shouldn't worry about how kids dress or how they have their hair. If it's more important on how someone is dressing over education there is a problem because by suspending a kid, they aren't in class which they didn't know what happened and If the kid keeps getting suspended they will eventually fall behind. If a kid can't have the same rights as being in a public school then why would you want to give them up because of a charter school of you can go to a public and keep them.

Murrieta ca
Do students in charter school have the First Amendment ? I believe they should, isnt the constitution made for every individual? Why would it be diff. for charter schools? As long as its not violent or drug related, i think its fine.

Parker Nelson
MS.Presnall/Central Middle Scchool
2 weeks ago I was told that I had to cut my hair because they said it looked like a Mohawk. But it was cut with a 1 guard AND it was 6 in. wide. there is no way that that's a Mohawk.

Rose Tyler
Ms.Greenberg/tierrasanta elementary
i think children in charter schools should be able to have rights in school. i mean their still human!

Stroudsburg, PA
Mr. Hanna/ Stroudsburg Junior high school
When I was in 1st through 4th grade I was in a charter school, so I think that they should have the same 1st Amendment rights as public schools. The fact that schools are financed by public money shouldn't determine whether they are public or private schools.

Stroudsburg, PA
Mr. Hanna/Stoudsburg JHS
I think all schools should have freedom of speech even if it is talking about religion or politics. this gives students a chance to tell others their belief of things. it also makes it so that they can argue on what they believe in ??????

Rudyard / MT
Campbell / North Star
Students in charter schools should have the same first amendments rights as students in public schools do. Rules set within schools aren't made to restrict freedoms but to keep students from disrupting class and promote the common good. Since there are these common reasons, I don't see how a school can have so much stricter rules. There are differences between say a private school and a public school, but there isn't a big enough difference between a charter and other public schools to have a drastic difference in rules. They are both public schools funded by some sort of higher body.

Murrieta Ca
Danielle K
Mr.Jabro/ Creekside High School
I think everyone has the right to express them self's. BUT if you enroll your student into a Private "Charter school" Then you sign a contract to follow the rules.. If you break the rules they can wave the contract in your face.. OR they can easily ask you if you would like to leave. I think that schools that get funded by the government are fine, but private schools (where people are giving them money through reasons) are aloud to have what ever rules they would like. Rules are every where so it doesn't matter where you go, there is always someone who is the boss of you. If the girls parents want her to go to a public school where she can have what ever hair style she likes then that if their choice. Signing a contract for a private school is choice as well. SO either follow the rules or change your ways.

Dow/Jack jouett
I think that students in charter schools should have the same first amendment rights as students in traditional public schools. A charter school is funded by the public, so basically the local GOVERNMENT pays for them. the local gov allows students first amendment rights so a charter school should too. I also think that charter schools should be classified as a public school.

Katie Bryan
I believe that since charter schools receive public money from the government, then they cannot limit the freedom of expression more than what a public school does. If a public school is forced to allow dreadlocks as a freedom of expression, than a charter school receiving money from the same source should too. If it was a private school, I would agree with school having the right to make their own policies, since they are funding themselves. The First Amendment is a right for a freedom of expression, particullarly in public places. If a charter school is funded through public money, they are under the same laws as public schools.

Han Huynh
The charter schools are still located under the United States which follow the order of the Constitution. Therefore, students should be able to express themselves freely under the First Amendment. Charter schools should not have special or different circumstances apart from public schools. On the issue of distinguishing the difference between public and private schools, public money that is given to schools should declare that school public and vice versa.

Monica F.
While I understand that students in charter schools still reside in the United States, if it's a rule that Tiana and her parents agreed to when signing whatever documents were needed in order to go to said school, I believe that it shouldn't be considered a violation of her First Amendment right; if a charter school is considered to be a sort of private school, then there shouldn't be a discussion about it . The rules say not to dress/style hair/etc. in a certain way, so she should abide by the rules. If she were in a completely public school, then yes, I think that would be violating her rights, but she isn't, so I do not believe her first amendment rights are being violated.

I believe that the students in charter schools should have the same "First Amendment Rights" as public school individuals. Students should be able to wear or dress in whatever they want, as long as it's not distraction towards others in the school environment. Schools have dress codes, but a hair style should not be outlawed, it's the freedom of expression in what they believe in. The right to express themselves is written in the amendment and everyone deserves to express their views in their own choices!

Bradley/Nimitz High School
Charter schools are still a part of the United States, not their own separate nation with their own separate rules. They still should abide by the the amendments(including the Bill of Rights) just as other schools do. Whether or not they are funded by the government or by a private organization both are ultimately run by the government though it may be more distant.

I believe that even though it is technically a "charter" school that does not mean the students are not protected under the 1st amendment. The constitution clearly states that congress shall not make any law abridging the freedom of expressing. This goes along with any school even if they do not receive public funding. Because these student are still citizens of the U.S. who have rights.

There is no possible way to make everyone happy. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t make everyone happy. And that is why it is so difficult to make decisions like this. When one little thing doesn’t go right in someone’s life, they make a big deal about it to make a point that their rights have been overlooked. I believe that people should be allowed to embrace their religion. Especially at school. Whether it be with dreadlocks or wraps or skirts or even being able to pray every day. I think everyone deserves the right to grow up in whatever culture their parents want for them. America prides itself in being the land of free. So everyone should be free. Granted, charter schools are partially private and partially public schools; there really shouldn’t be any rule or law against a young girl wearing her hair differently in support of her religion.

Frisco, TX
Adams/CTE Center
I believe that students in charter school should have basic first amendment rights, since they are getting money from the government. Charter schools are taking away the first amendment of their students by not allowing them to wear their hair “naturally,” since dreadlocks are natural and not exactly distracting.

benson arizona
marvin sorenson
i think they should have the same rights as public schools because we all shall be equal

Benson/ Arizona
Hana and Morgan
Sorenson/ Benson High School
The First Amendment rights should apply to any one person no matter what school or kind of school they go to in America.

The students First Amendment rights should always be guaranteed no matter what school that student attends. Just because the student does not go to a government funded school does not mean that that student cannot have the same rights as everyone else. Charter schools are still on American soil, and they should still be subjected to American rules and rights. If a school receives money from the public, it should not be able to take away any students rights just because the word "Charter" is in a schools title.

Frisco tx
They should because it's a Christian school.saying there's nothing wrong with it.because there are different things that we do in public school than charter schools. They are similar but different and how they do stuff

Frisco, Texas
Adams/CTE Center
Students attending charter schools should be be able to have the rights of the first amendment. Even though they are considered private schools, the fact the schools are being given money by the government like public school should enable the students to have the same first amendment rights as the student at any public school. Tiana should not have been pulled out of class unless she was disrupting or distracting the class. Because Charter schools are considered to be private yet they are providing with money from the government should give the students the rights that any other public student would have unless the school stopped the funding coming from the government and instead were given money from private donors. Because if the school is being given money by the government, in some aspect if the school were do to something or prevent something that the students are legally given in other schools, it could be seen as the government supporting the schools decisions to take away someones rights.

Frisco, TX
Adams/CTE Center
Students attending charter schools should have the same rights as students attending public schools. In Deborah's case, her hair was not distracting nor creating a scene, therefore she should have been able to wear her hair the way it was. The schools policy against "faddish" hair styles is a violation of First Amendment rights due to the fact that it's not that it was causing a ruckus, it's just the fact that the head administration does not like the way that these hair styles look.

Adams/CTE Center
Charter school students should be guaranteed the same rights under the First Amendment as children in the public school system. Because these institutions are funded by the public, they should not receive special treatment or be separated from the policies of other public schools, and the students should abide by the same regulations that exist in government-sponsored educational facilities. Their "charter" status only differentiates their purpose for education from public schools and there should be no difference in the rights of students in any of these schools.

The students that attend to charter schools should be and would soon have the rights of the first amendment. If the student isn’t doing anything disruptive with their hair that isn’t distracting then they should have allowed her to have them in the first place. It’s not only in her case that the first amendment should be allowed but many other cases soon to follow. The school uses public money, and like public schools the students have a right of the first amendment, to some degree at least. Because they use the public’s money, they don’t really have a right to have their own guidelines like private schools, where they are funded but private sponsors. Charter schools are like a breed of the two: public and private, but to use the publics money, they should just be a public school. All in all, charter schools need to allow the students who attend the school their first amendment rule, to some degree.

Students in charter schools should have the same First Amendment rights as public schools. Just because private schools are financed by money other than the governments, doesn't mean they should have to have separate rules and guidelines as public schools. Parents and companies pay the schools to make sure their child is getting the higher education and schooling that their money can buy. Now why is a child's hair, even a little seven year old, so distracting that other children can't get the education their parents are paying for? They deserve the same rights as the children in public school have and everyone deserves the freedom to express themselves.

Students should have the first amendment right no matter if they are attending a charter school or a public school. As long as the student ins't creating a distraction or disrupting the teaching of the class the first amendment should be totally applicable to anyone. There does have to be regulations and limits to what students, and teachers can wear to be able to maintain a clean, productive, and safe environment for everyone. It's not fair that an institution is financed by the public and the public doesn't get to use it. If the school is financed by public money then the public should be able to use that institution.

I do believe that students in charter schools should have the same First Amendment rights as their public school counterparts. Also, while I realize that this conflicts with the precedent set by the Court of Appeals, I believe that the fact that a school is financed by public money should classify that it is a public institution. The real point that I would like to make, however, is that students can dress or wear their hair in any fashion as long as it does not distract or disrupt the school environment. This is the sole policy about which the school ought to fashion its dress and hairstyle rules. If a hairstyle does not distract or disrupt-why would any school outlaw the style? – a public school should not be allowed to outlaw the style. The reason that schools have dress codes is to prevent distraction and disruption. So, if this school simply would have proved that Tiana’s “faddish” hair style was, in anyway reasonable way, distracting or disrupting, they would have been okay.

Benson, AZ
Mr. Sorenson/ Benson High School
I think that, technically speaking, the school is allowed to forbid the dreadlocks, since they aren't being funded by the government, but is it really necessary? Granted, it was stated in their rules that dreadlocks aren't okay, but are they that distracting and "improper"? I think the school overreacted. The kid is only 7. Don't punish the child by taking her out of class, speak with the parents if it's that big of a deal.

Sorenson/Benson High School
Yep, the charter school kids should have the same 1st amendments rights, dummy. Because we're people/humans and doofuses in school administration don't need to be the head of people/students/humans. its not their role!!!!!

The first amendment was established in order to protect the rights and liberties of the people. Just because the student is in a charter school does not mean that they have no rights. No matter where a person is they have rights. They may be limited, but these are innumerable rights, and they should not be taken away because it is a “private” institution. Although, like I said before rights are limited and the school does indeed have the freedom to set a dress code just like certain companies set grooming standards. Are we going to sue companies for making its employees wear formal attire? Students should have their first amendment rights, but within limits, because we wouldn't our employees or co-workers coming to work in pajamas. The right to express ourselves is sacred in more ways than one, but we can't exercise that right all the time, it would be unproductive and could even put those around us in danger.

benson az
I think all schools should have freedom of speech even if it is talking about religion or politics. this gives students a chance to tell others their belief of things. it also makes it so that they can argue on what the believe.

Many people for every little thing say "You violated my first amendment" which is just bogus. Every citizen has different views and is understandable but only because you weren't allow to do something, you have to remember, that the law is the law and only because you felt violated of your rights doesn't mean the next person felt the same. But in this case a little thing such as wearing dreadlocks in my opinion is okay because it wasn't distracting anybody. But the wishes of a private organization should be respected. So no, charter schools should not have the same first amendment rights and well money shouldn't determine if an institution is public or private, the institution should get approval of the state to be public or private.

Irving/ Texas
Vanessa Dania
Bradley/ NImitz
The First Amendment states that every citizen has the freedom to express religion, speech, press, and to assemble but that does not mean that the Amendment stands everywhere in the country. Many U.S public schools have some sort of code of conduct, which states the rules that students, teachers, and administrators have to follow. Many of the rules deal with grading policies, behavior, and the most popular one, dress code. Even though the First Amendment deals with free expression, this does not give students the right to dress how they want. In the case of Tiana Parker and the Deborah Brown Community Charter School, just like a public school, the charter school had some sort of dress code that Ms. Parker broke and she had to have some sort of consequence. Anyway you want to look at it, there is some form of “code of conduct” everywhere. For example, if one wants to express themselves by driving 90 instead of 30, there is a consequence which says that we can’t just do what we want because of the First Amendment. As well as if one is working somewhere, they have to follow an ethics code of conduct. In Ms.Parker's case, the First Amendment rights in charter and public schools are the same. In the end, charter schools are considered private since public schools receive government money.

Irving/ TX
J Luna
To start off I have charter school before so I understand both sides of this argument. Although the charters schools can vary tremendously, the essence why they are the way they are ,for the most part, is the same. Since they are partially financed by the state why should the state have a say in how they rum their school in a whole. That is ultimately why they are a considered a "private" institution. Just like other private institutions they can regulate their school rules/ restrictions to fulfill their needs. Students in both charter school and public school do have the same First Amendment rights. Charter school kids have just have exorcise their rights in accordance within school rules. They made the choice to attend that school rather than a public school that should be available to them anyway. This is issue really doesn't come down to being a violation to the student's right. Instead its a matter of realizing there are rules everywhere you go. Especially if in a private institution where you are either privileged or chose to be part of.

The fact is that 7-year-old Tania Parker broke the dress code that was asked of her by the school she was enrolled in. However unreasonable that certain rule may seem, it does not violate her right to the First Amendment. The publicly funded charter school has the liberty to create whatever uniform system they choose and whosoever breaks any of those rules is not necessarily disregarded from the First Amendment. The reason for the differences between public and private schools boil down to one thing: politics. Public schools are required to conform to meet everyone’s needs because it is a government function that needs to reflect the words in the Constitution appropriately. Since private schools are not federally funded they have more leeway to create the school they want to run independent from the freedom of religion, expression, and speech. Because of this, I do not think that Charter schools have the responsibility to maintain the First Amendment.

Dixon, CA
Buckingham Charter Magnet High
I do not think that Charter Schools have a responsibility to maintain the First Amendment. If one is to take a hard line against government funding being used in private contexts, it would eliminate any possible stimulus and public benefits without an associated increase in authoritarianism. While the government has a responsibility to make sure it’s money is used responsibly, I see no reason why this should extend to essentially free and self-interested organizations such as any school system. However, better regulation may be in order for the establishment of schools overall. Seeing as the diplomas offered by most schools are considered fairly equal by most institutes of higher learning and are often gated by availability, there does need to be an intuitive core set of rules dictating what constitutes a school, but even if the informational content of a vestment is prevented the pragmatic form of the object should have a coherent standard.

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