Nursing students should know their constitutional rights

By | 2016-11-22T16:12:35-05:00 September 1st, 2016|Tags: |16 Comments



Nancy Brent, RN

As a student in a public nursing education program, whether a baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral course of study, you possess certain rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. You may not have thought about these protections, but they are essential entitlements you may need to utilize at some point during your educational journey.

First amendment

The First Amendment is often used to challenge decisions of public academic institutions. This amendment safeguards your right to practice your religion, to speak freely, to write freely, to assemble peaceably and to file a case against the government if these rights are violated.

First Amendment challenges can occur when an academic institution curbs students’ rights to speak about or against certain issues and when the institution curtails support of student newspapers or student websites. In Stanley v. Magath, 719 Fed. 2d 279 (8th Circuit 1983), the court held that “a public university cannot take adverse action against a student newspaper, such as withdrawing or reducing the paper’s funding, because it disapproves of the content of the paper.” It also has been used to defend against limitations on a student’s right to demonstrate.

Fourth amendment

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. It has been raised by students when their dorm room was searched without a reasonable basis. It also has been used when students challenged drug and alcohol testing policies adopted by the academic institution.

Fourteenth amendment

Although all amendments are important to individuals and students, perhaps the most important one is the Fourteenth Amendment. It requires that no state can deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law (the Fifth Amendment provides the same protections from actions by the federal government). The words life, liberty and property have unique meanings for students.

Liberty has been interpreted by the courts to mean that when a student is facing expulsion from a secondary institution’s educational program because of academic reasons, the student’s liberty or interest in attending another educational institution, and ultimately graduating and gaining employment, is threatened. As a result, due process protections, such as notice to the student of the potential for dismissal from a program and the opportunity to attempt to change the student’s behavior or increase a grade point average, is essential.

Likewise, property is not only something one owns, such as a house or a car. Property also has been defined as a student’s interest in continuing in an educational program and obtaining a degree. As a result, public academic institutions must provide clear due process protections before a student is dismissed from that program because of academic reasons.

Private college student rights

If you are a student in a private college or university program, you may wonder what rights you have. Because the U.S. Constitution and its amendments only apply to government action, constitutional protections are not afforded to you.

However, you do have rights as well. The protections include whatever the nursing education program grants to you in the school’s written documents (e.g., student handbook, course syllabi). As a student in a private nursing program, you could challenge an unfair dismissal if an aspect or aspects of those documents were violated. The basis of the challenge is the fact that the documents are seen as a contract between the student and the academic institution.

Another remedy you have if in a nonpublic school is to challenge an academic dismissal as arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory. Courts generally have held that if the educational program’s decision falls into one of these categories, the dismissal would not be upheld when challenged by a student.

Hopefully you’ll never need any of the protections afforded you in both a public or private academic nursing program when facing a dismissal from the school for academic reasons. If you do, though, keep in mind that there are legal safeguards available to objectively evaluate such a decision. A timely consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney practicing law in the area of higher education would be important.



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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.


  1. Avatar
    Camille June 26, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Hello, I am a LPN student I’ve recently completed the program with an 84% average. However my issue that prompts me to reach out to you is the exit exam. This exam is generated from Ati online site, that was rarely the the focus of lecture. Ati was sort of a do it yourself type of approach. I was tested previously from Ati with a expectation of level 2, depending on the amount of questions the score would vary between 72-76%. After the last semester in N103 and passing the final exam the class had a significant break of 3wks. During which time no communication with instructors prior to taking the exit exam. Student were to prepare on there own. My first attempt I scored 87% the passing score that the score set is 94%. I was allowed to retake, my second attempt I scored 93% missing the expected score by only .3%. I was given the option to retake the last semester over (which I already passed) for the same charge as I had already paid. It hurts because this school has held me back from taking the Nclex. Attending this program and working full-time was a challenge that I managed to succeed with a lot of sacrifice. I’ve worked a as a unit secretary for 6 years and I have several years of nurse assistant experience too. I’m passionate about advocating for patients, I want to be a nurse so I can make a bigger difference in the residents life where I’m working. This dilemma a me feeling very ill toward the school, it not in plan to give up but what other choice do I have besides taking another loan and spending more money with this school that isn’t for the student success. If you have information to help me, with the best way to address the school, and possibly a school that would expect a transferred student that has course completion transcripts, or if there is some organization that can assist me please share it. I honestly feel like the school should not make me retake the over, and 94% is a very high expectation.

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      Yola December 13, 2021 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      Wow the same exact thing happened to me did you ever find out if this was legal?

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    Muthu September 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    Are they allow to use mobile phones?

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    Barkel J Flemming June 2, 2018 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    A question also I completed an RN program. I took the Hessi and made a 885 most school require a 850. the school asked me to repeat. I made a 73 on ATI they also want me to repeat. I’ve never seen my report itself it’s just a handwritten piece of paper saying I haven’t met the school standards. I’ve been a nurse for 14yrs (lpn). I’ve worked hard and don’t want to throw my money away. They want me to write to the dean to ask for an appeal to come back. Is there anyway I can sign a waiver to take boards? my grades say 850 or higher have a good chance of passing. I’m stuck. please help.

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    T. Kerry Rivers August 28, 2018 at 1:21 am - Reply

    I’m an online FNP student who had an urgent spinal surgey during the program. I was advised by my student advisor to discuss a plan with the professors for catch up work instead of going through the disability office or withdrawing from class due to finaicial aid policy. Both professors agreed on a 6 day catch up period in writing. One of the professors accepted he catch up work and graded as on time the other deducted points from each asaignment as late which placed me on academic probation. I excelled through the program passing the courses thereafter. The day of my final exam in my second to last course. I logged on to prepared to test and received notice that due technical difficulties the exam was not available and was extended to the following day. I was getting married the following day. The faculty stated work-life balance was not a reason to reschedule the test. I logged into the exam frantically 2hrs before due time after the wedding activities and bombed. I experienced what I know now was a panic attack, thought I was having a heart attack, chest pain, breathlessness, sweating documented on the proctoring site. My mind went entirely blank and I got a C+ by less than 1% (0.6% to be exact)to pass. I was dismissed from the program with no options to appeal. I am totally devasted. Is there anything I can do legally?

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    Robin Johnson September 15, 2018 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Hi my name is Robin Johnson and I am seeking legal advice for a Lpn program I was attending. I feel as if I’m being harassed and now I have been dismissed from my program. I really would like to further my conversation if someone could contact me

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    Misty Hightower February 14, 2019 at 1:22 am - Reply

    I have some questions regarding lvn to RN program that I need clarified as well. Thank you

  7. Avatar
    Meriam March 30, 2019 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    FNP program in Texas, graduating student and being dismissed from the program. Been contacting lawyers, but no help. What should I do?

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    Emma June 26, 2019 at 4:18 am - Reply

    Hello, I was enrolled in a private ADN nursing program in central Virginia. I faced disability discrimination from the ADA coordinator of the college. I was required to write a formal letter to the school requesting reasonable accommodations. My attending medical doctor wrote a request for reasonable accommodations as well.
    I had a lot of trouble obtaining reasonable accommodations. I faced retaliation for confronting the coordinator, stating that I felt I like the school did not want to accommodate me and that I felt unwelcome. I was verbally and emotionally harassed at the meeting that followed. I was told “I was danger to my patients and liability to the school and the hospital “ due to my disability. The interactive process did not take place. Some of my request for reasonable accommodations were denied. These accommodations did not cost the college any undue financial burden. I was not reasonable accommodated during the second semester on several different occasions. However, according to the ADA coordinator would boast that other students received their reasonable accommodations with out problems. I’ve continued to have problems since then. I would like to further discuss my situation if someone would be willing to contact me.

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    Brittany LaBarge August 4, 2019 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    I need an attorney to defend against termination from a nursing program for a hippa violation which occurred during my employment as a nurse intern . I am in Texas

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    Betty L Howard November 18, 2019 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I need an attorney for discrimination in a for profit private college for falsely termination with 3 quarters left in the nursing program. I attended this school from 2012 to 2019. and was terminated from the school because of the color of my skin. The instructors would change grades or give points to help the white students pass, even when they failed. They use their rules to hurt black students and help the white students. What options do i have as far as suing this school?

    • Sallie Jimenez
      Sallie Jimenez November 25, 2019 at 11:23 am - Reply

      Hello Betty. You can visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state. They may have consultation services that could shed light on your options for litigation. Thank you for your question and best wishes for a good outcome.

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    Christy Brown February 10, 2021 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    I am and African American woman who sued a college after being dismissed from a Practical Nursing program due to racial discrimination after meeting graduation requirement. I believe this was done to prevent me from sitting for the Nursing State Licensure board and from blocking me from receiving my Practical Nursing certificate. My attorney had me to settle as the case because the case dragged on on for 3 years and my attorney had other cases . I was believing I would get my nursing certificate out of the settlement. However, They never gave me my certificate and before the litigation my loan aggregate was $58000 After the settlement my loan aggregate rose to $88000 leaving me with an insurmountable debt. The Settlement amount was apparently added to my loan aggregate. Is this illegal?

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    Davian Corbin April 19, 2021 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Can a school legally not send in your form 2?

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