Distinctions between the constitutional rights of students attending public and private schools

A guest article from Jordan Haylor, a Seabury Hall junior who is in Mrs. McLeod’s “Introduction to Law” class.

Private school students must follow the student handbook that they and their parents sign, because this is a form of contract. Contract law is very different from constitutional law. When two or more parties agree to certain terms, this is called a contract. This written or oral agreement legally binds both parties to the terms of the contract. This is seen at Seabury, when we pay tuition in exchange for an education and, therefore, are legally bound to follow all of the rules contained within the “Seabury Hall Parent-Student Handbook.”  

Public school students are granted constitutional freedoms since public schools are funded by the government. Because of the nexus with government, public schools cannot censor speech, although they are allow to act as in loco parentis (or as a parent) in some situations which allow schools to limit freedoms but not to void them. Private schools, however, have the right to restrict almost anything as long as the parent and student sign the contract. In practice, private schools rarely restrict highly controversial subjects because of the potential for bad publicity and because enrollment figures would potentially decrease.

Seabury Hall generated the “Seabury Hall Parent-Student Handbook” to act as the contract that the students must follow in exchange for education. This contract binds the student who signs it to follow all rules and regulations within the handbook. Although this is our rule book and disciplinary document, a poll revealed that only 18% of the students in Seabury Hall have read it from cover to cover. This staggeringly low number indicates that 82% of the students do not know all the rules and can be unpleasantly surprised when they get in trouble for something clearly stated in the handbook. Only 38% of our student body knows that their rights differ from those of students in public school.  This exemplifies that the majority of students are unaware of their rights and why certain rules are enforced.