On October 26, Associated Student Body (ASB) leadership and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) held a workshop to educate students on their civil rights. The seminar covered laws like Title IX and Title VI, along with how the First Amendment plays out within the school gates.
“We thought it was important for students to be aware of the rights they have,” Melody Joliff, an organizer and senior at Berkeley High School (BHS) explained, “[especially] due to the political climate and the protests going on.”
Title IX refers to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law that was passed to combat sex-based discrimination on American college campuses. Title VI refers to part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race.
Attendees received lessons on how Title IX and Title VI affect them directly, and what the school is legally required to do in different situations.
Students learned that a school has a responsibility to intervene in a harassment case even after the school reports it to the police. The presenters emphasized that an appropriate response to race- and sex-based discrimination is legally necessary irrespective of the race of the aggrieved party.
In addition to the basic statutory protections, the seminar covered how students could use critical thinking and research to uncover bias in the school system. Attendees were encouraged to analyze their school’s punishment records by race, sex, or other parameters. This analysis is simple and often reveals bias.
The presenters impressed upon students the importance of developing critical thinking skills.
The ACLU’s lawyers explained that free speech is protected in school, as long as it does not affect students’ ability to learn. They explained how anyone considering action within the school must decide whether certain kinds of activism interrupt learning. Actions that are familiar to most students, like protests or walkouts, can be the basis of a legal punishment or response from the administration based upon whether they disrupt learning.
The presenters pointed out that organizing protests can be tricky, especially ones that are independent from the school. For maximum safety, attendees were encouraged to protest outside school property, and to not use school equipment to share information or make plans.
Presenters also educated students about their rights when interacting with the police. When detained by the police, ACLU lawyers noted, your first question should be, “Am I free to go?”
“If the answer is no,” the lawyers clarified, “only then are you under arrest.”
The effort to teach civil rights is ongoing, but some students doubt schools do enough. Joliff has “learned everything [she] knows on the subject outside of BHS.” This makes extracurricular opportunities that people like Joliff hope to create even more important.
Following a tumultuous year of walkouts and contested administrative decisions, some students feel less comfortable at school. According to Joliff, “Awareness is the first step to feeling secure in a school environment.”
Protests have become commonplace in recent times, so it is more important than ever for people to know what to do when interacting with police. Workshops like these can save people time and trouble.
A combination of civil unrest, quarantine, and a chilling political landscape have led many students to feel hopeless. Knowing your rights is empowering, and a gift that keeps on giving.