PORTLAND – The ACLU of Maine today released the educational toolkit “Know Your Rights: Back to School,” as Maine students, teachers, and staff settle into the new academic year. Understanding your rights at school is crucial in the face of attacks on the rights of LGBTQ students, free access to books and information, and open discussions about concepts such as race and gender.
The new resources cover a variety of issues in public schools, including teacher and staff free speech, dress codes and gender identity, student protests and walkouts, and tribal regalia at school ceremonies. The push for classroom censorship is not new, and recent efforts are a backlash to racial justice protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others at the hands of police.
“As the Supreme Court ruled in 1969, students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,’” said ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan. “Throughout the country and right here in Maine, politicians, school boards, and others are committed to banning books, censoring classroom discussions, and curtailing other constitutional rights. When politicians attempt to sanitize and whitewash our places of learning, students lose the opportunity to understand the world around them and draw their own conclusions.”
Earlier this year, the ACLU of Maine and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) wrote an open letter to all Maine districts demanding they uphold their own legal obligations and students’ First Amendment rights by stopping efforts to ban and censor books. The letter was in response to several attempted restrictions throughout the state and followed letters to certain school districts considering restricting or banning access to certain books.