Safe & Affirming Schools

Protecting Our Students’ Civil Rights

In the face of federal civil rights rollbacks and threats, educators, parents and students are organizing to adopt school board policies that strengthen student protections. Get inspired by educators and students making change in their communities and find model policies that will empower you to ensure all students’ right to a safe and affirming school.


Since the 2016 presidential election, hate crimes and other racial and religious harassment are on the rise, and our schools have not been insulated. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) surveyed over 10,000 educators in America’s schools to assess students’ experiences of bullying, hate, and harassment in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Eight out of ten educators reported “heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, and LGBT students.” Educators “made a point of saying that what is happening now is something new . . . . an unleashing of a spirit of hatred they had not seen before.”

Given all this, educators’ role in combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination is as difficult and important as ever.

NEA’s guidance on students’ rights:

  • Provides educators with an understanding of current laws that protect students from racial, religious, and national origin harassment;
  • Provides a model policy that school districts should adopt to ensure those protections are fully enforced;
  • Provides responses to Frequently Asked Questions that may be useful in organizing around these issues; and
  • Provides a list of other resources for protecting students’ rights.

Sample Policy:

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Sexual Harassment

While under threat of being weakened, full Title IX protections requiring schools to address sexual harassment still remain in effect. However, under the new student-driven sexual harassment policy adopted in Oakland, there will be a designated point person in each school to handle sexual harassment and assault complaints, and the reporting process for students, educators and parents has been clearly delineated.

Before, the district had just one person, the district’s ombudsperson, who was responsible for all sexual harassment and assault complaints in the entire system. Another major change was getting rid of language that suggested that a victim may be penalized for reporting sexual harassment.

Sample Policy: 

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Trans Student Protections

The student-led movement that created this policy was sparked by the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey released in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey drew attention to the alarming number of LGBTQ students who had contemplated and made a plan for suicide. These numbers were alarming because the suicide numbers are even higher for transgender students, but the CDC did not separately survey transgender students. This data moved the Frederick County School Board to convene a meeting to discuss the issue. A number of transgender students came and told their stories and shared their experiences.

The Frederick County School Board policy explicitly states that bathrooms and locker rooms should be used according to gender identity and provides alternatives for students who feel uncomfortable for any reason. The policy also clarifies issues around participation in sports teams, preferred names and pronouns, and dress codes for school sponsored events.

Sample policy links: 

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Immigrant Students

A pragmatic approach to immigration is critical for our students –the center of our communities. All students should have the opportunity to learn without the fear and distress that results from harsh immigration enforcement. Educators are witnessing the impact of this trauma on our students, their families and our communities firsthand.

NEA has developed a sample resolution and district policy that can be used as a template or guidance for local school districts to create their own Safe Zones resolutions. The language is closely tied to the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, which is the foundational precedent establishing that access to K-12 education is a civil right regardless of immigration status. The model resolution contains reassurances for students, procedures for law enforcement, and information and support for families and staff. Over a hundred school districts across the country have passed their own safe zone resolutions.

Sample policy links:

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Take Action

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Model Policies & FAQs

Find model school board policies to use as a guide for the strongest and most innovative protections for students’ civil rights.

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School Board Activism

Whether you are a regular at your school board meetings or are just getting started, here are some tips to make your advocacy for our students the best it can be.

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Legal Guidance

NEA legal guidance on students’ rights when it comes to discrimination and harassment based on race, religion, national origin, or immigration status.

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