Youth Rights

Whether in school, in neighborhoods, or in the presence of law enforcement, the ACLU is committed to protecting young people’s constitutional rights. When the Constitution was first drafted, children were considered property of their parents and afforded few rights. However, in the years since, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized youth should be granted many of the same rights as adults.

Ohio agrees to end seclusion in youth prisons

The ACLU of Ohio thanks you for taking action. Children in detention will be safer because you spoke up.

In December, the ACLU of Ohio launched an administrative rules campaign calling for a …

The ACLU of Ohio thanks you for taking action. Children in detention will be safer because you spoke up.

In December, the ACLU of Ohio launched an administrative rules campaign calling for a ban on the solitary confinement (referred to as seclusion) of children in detention.

ACLU’s National Prison Project, several youth advocates, and hundreds of our members and supporters submitted comments to the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) calling for a ban. The ACLU of Ohio also submitted a letter with our comments.

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a restraining order against the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) to end seclusion of children with mental health needs.

On Wednesday May 21 2014, the Ohio DYS and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement, to ‘dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate’ the use of seclusion in Ohio’s youth detention facilities. The agreement includes a set of strategies to reduce violence and improve the response to violence in DYS facilities.

Many advocates have devoted years and multiple strategies to ending this harmful practice. Thank you for leading in this effort.

Female Athletes Must Have Equal Access to School Sports

Denying a student the opportunity to play a sport based on their sex is unlawful.

Title IX specifically states, “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, …

Denying a student the opportunity to play a sport based on their sex is unlawful.

Title IX specifically states, “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

This means if a girl wants to play a sport at her public school, she must be given the same opportunity as a boy.  If the school does not offer a female team for a particular sport, girls must be allowed to try out for the boys’ team.

The ACLU of Ohio recently stepped in to help Makhaela Jenkins, a middle school student who was told she could not play football because she was a girl. Soon after, the school reversed their decision and allowed Makhaela to join her teammates on the field.

Girls showing interest in contact sports is nothing new.  In 1974, an Ohio little league football team was forced to accept a twelve year old girl who wanted to play.  Today, girls across the state of Ohio play football, join the wrestling team and play rugby.

Boy or girl, the ACLU of Ohio encourages all students to participate in whatever sport they desire.

Seclusion Rooms in Ohio

For years, Ohio schoolchildren — many of them disabled — have been routinely isolated in cell-like seclusion rooms or physically restrained by educators with little or no oversight from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

On April 9, 2013 …

For years, Ohio schoolchildren — many of them disabled — have been routinely isolated in cell-like seclusion rooms or physically restrained by educators with little or no oversight from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

On April 9, 2013 the State Board of Education finally passed rule 3301-35-15, governing the use of seclusion and restraints practices in Ohio schools. This rule is an important step for the many Ohio schools that secluded and restrained children without guidelines for years and adds extra protections like parental notification and oversight when a child is secluded or restrained.

Currently, the new rule only applies to traditional public schools and not public charter schools, leaving over 115,000 Ohio school children unprotected.  However, Ohio Senate Bill 266 has been just been introduced that would require public charter schools to comply with the ODE’s policies and standards for limiting the use of physical restraint and seclusion on students.

The ACLU of Ohio will continue working to ensure that all of Ohio’s public school children are given the same opportunities and protections.

We will keep you posted on opportunities to take action.

Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense

Years of zero-tolerance polices have proven to be ineffective, unfair, and excessive and the federal government has finally taken notice.  Acknowledging that discrimination in school discipline is a problem, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice recently issued …

Years of zero-tolerance polices have proven to be ineffective, unfair, and excessive and the federal government has finally taken notice.  Acknowledging that discrimination in school discipline is a problem, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice recently issued guidance to schools on the administration of discipline in a non-discriminatory manner.

The Ohio legislature is also examining zero-tolerance policies and taking a much-needed look at school discipline practices.  According to the Ohio Department of Education, over 210,000 students received out-of-school suspensions during the 2012-2013 school. Approximately 53,000 students were suspended for fighting, while 131,615 were suspended for disobedient or disruptive behavior.

Ohio Senate Bill 167 would eliminate zero-tolerance school policies for violent, disruptive, or inappropriate student behavior, including excessive truancy, and prohibits the adoption of such policies in the future. Instead, it requires each school district to create its own multi-factored policy to deal with incidents on a case-by-case basis. It also requires school boards to create alternative strategies for handling bullying and harassment, as well as other student behavioral issues.

The ACLU of Ohio is committed to challenging zero tolerance policies  that push children out of schools and into the justice system.

Read our testimony on S.B. 167

Read our blog post on the failure of zero tolerance in schools.

Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and Extended Solitary Confinement in Ohio Detention Facilities

Freedom from sexual abuse is not a privilege; it is a right!

Nevertheless, Ohio’s Juvenile Detention facilities have one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation. Often …

Freedom from sexual abuse is not a privilege; it is a right!

Nevertheless, Ohio’s Juvenile Detention facilities have one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation. Often the children inside are also being kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. 

The ACLU of Ohio has asked the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to address these problems by formally declaring that juveniles have a right to be free from sexual victimization while inside Ohio’s detention facilities. We’re also asking them to ban the extended seclusion/isolation of juveniles beyond 24 consecutive hours.

Read our letter to DYS for a full list of our recommendations.

Read ACLU’s National Prison Projects recommendations to DYS on solitary confinement of juveniles.

See our 5/22/2014 update: Ohio agrees to end seclusion in youth prisons

Legislative Priority: Protect the rights of families

The ACLU of Ohio works to protect the rights of families in schools, the community, and the criminal justice system.

It is widely recognized by professionals and the courts that youth differ from adults. Consequently, the Ohio Supreme Court determined in …

The ACLU of Ohio works to protect the rights of families in schools, the community, and the criminal justice system.

It is widely recognized by professionals and the courts that youth differ from adults. Consequently, the Ohio Supreme Court determined in 2012 that youth facing a loss of liberty must have their right to counsel explained prior to waiving this right. However, the Ohio Supreme Court found in In re M.W. that because police interrogations are not considered part of juvenile criminal proceedings, youth do not have to have this right explained to them before talking with police. In his concurring opinion, Justice Lanzinger suggested that this extension requires a change in policy by the General Assembly.[1]

Ohioans want to make certain justice is served. In order to ensure that there is justice for victims, suspects, and defendants, the ACLU of Ohio recommends legislation that:

  • Includes police interrogations in juvenile criminal proceedings.
  • Ensures youth are explained their right to counsel and the consequences of refusing counsel prior to police interrogations.


[1] In re M.W., 133 Ohio St.3d 309, 2012-Ohio-4538.

Removal of Children from Families

Child welfare agencies perform an important task by evaluating potentially dangerous living situations, and protecting children who may face immediate harm. However, a 2011 Cuyahoga County case in which a young boy was taken from his mother’s care by child …

Child welfare agencies perform an important task by evaluating potentially dangerous living situations, and protecting children who may face immediate harm. However, a 2011 Cuyahoga County case in which a young boy was taken from his mother’s care by child protective services because he was morbidly obese raised serious concerns regarding the government’s ability to remove children from households.

The ACLU and other advocates believe that children should only be removed from households when their health and well being is in eminent danger. While obesity may be a long term health risk, the child was not suffering any problems that necessitated immediate removal from his mother’s care. The child was in treatment for minor health problems, and enrolled in a wellness program.

The ACLU and Cuyahoga County Public Defender represented the mother in the case In re K.W. The court ruled the mother should regain custody of the child, and continues to monitor his weight loss and expose him to programs that will help stimulate wellness.

Read the ACLU’s docket item on In re K.W.

Social Media and School Safety

In February 2012, a student opened fire on other students at Chardon High School in northeast Ohio. Three students died in the attack, and two others were seriously wounded. In the aftermath of the attack, schools and law enforcement around …

In February 2012, a student opened fire on other students at Chardon High School in northeast Ohio. Three students died in the attack, and two others were seriously wounded. In the aftermath of the attack, schools and law enforcement around the region began to punish students for insensitive, sarcastic, or offensive remarks they made on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The ACLU strongly condemns the use of violence and notes that true threats of violence are not protected under the First Amendment. However, many students and adults were punished for expressing opinions that may have been inflammatory or insensitive — but are not illegal. One such case occurred in Painesville, where the ACLU spoke out on the punishment imposed on the defendant, which included a yearlong prohibition against using social media.

Whether in school, in neighborhoods, or in the presence of law enforcement, the ACLU is committed to protecting young people’s constitutional rights. When the Constitution was first drafted, children were considered property of their parents and afforded few rights. However, in the years since, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized youth should be granted many of the same rights as adults.

National ACLU Resources – Youth Issues