While the First Amendment assures everyone the right of free speech, that right does not extend to bullying, making other students feel unsafe, or getting in the way of someone's education.

Back to "Know Your Student Rights"

What can I do if the school or people at the school are making racist comments?

The law is clear in forbidding school officials, teachers, and staff from discriminating against students on the basis of race or national origin, and that includes racist comments.

If you feel that you or another student is being discriminated against or subjected to unfair stereotypes, get advice from a teacher or other trusted adult you think will be sympathetic. Find out if there's a complaint procedure (most schools have written complaint procedures) and follow it. Then consider the actions listed here.

What can I do if the school or people and/or students at the school are hostile about LGBTQ issues?

Harassment and attacks on LGBTQ students have gained more attention in recent years. Schools have a legal obligation to keep all students safe and to prevent bullying or harassment of LGBTQ students (and, in fact, all students) by other students, teachers, and staff.

LGBTQ students have the same rights of expression as others. Teachers and others cannot restrict your expression of your ideas and beliefs. You can talk openly about your sexual orientation, form a club based on sexual orientation, and openly take your same-sex date to a public school dance or prom.

In Iowa, state law protects students, teachers, and staff from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. This state law applies to all K-12 schools, public and private, except bona fide religious institutions. State law also requires all such institutions to adopt policies that prohibit anti-gender identity harassment and bullying. Discrimination based on gender identity or sex stereotyping at any school (or college) receiving federal funding may also violate the portion of federal law known as Title IX.

If you or someone you care about it being discriminated against or harassed because they are LGBTQ, also consider reaching out to the Iowa Safe Schools GSA Network.

How can I tell if someone is bullying or harassing me or a friend?

Iowa law defines harassment and bullying to be something that:

  • Causes the student to fear harm to themselves or their property
  • Has a "substantially detrimental effect" on the student’s physical or mental health
  • Interferes with the student's academic performance
  • Interferes with the person's ability to participate or benefit from activities and benefits of the school
  • Can also be discrimination, based on a wide variety of characteristics of the person being bullied, including age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation), gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political preference, socioeconomic status, or family makeup

And bullying doesn’t have to occur only in person or only at school. Bullying can happen through texts, emails, phone calls, and social media.

If you are being bullied or harassed, discuss it with a parent or trusted adult. Remember that you are not the one who is doing something wrong—the bully/bullies are. Then approach the school. Iowa law requires all schools to protect students from bullies. And all Iowa schools must have an anti-bullying policy. Ask for a copy so you better understand what the school is supposed to do. Then talk to a school official (bringing a parent or friend along for support is a great idea).

Many students think that if they report bullies, the harassment will get worse. You have to consider all the consequences, but very often reporting bullies stops them from pushing you around—and many others. Also, be aware that retaliation is against the rules. 

Iowa Safe Schools was created specifically to fight bullying of all types in Iowa schools. It also lends support and advice to students who are victims of bullying.