Problem Statement: Disciplinary rules are necessary for students to benefit from education and training activities without any problems or shortcomings in the school environment. Governed by regulation in Turkey, these rules prescribe such penalties as reprimand, short-term suspension, changing of schools, or exclusion from formal education institutions. Conversely, various national and international legal arrangements define children’s fundamental rights and freedoms. Students below the age of 18 are also entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms by reason of such legal arrangements. One of these arrangements recognises the freedom of thought and expression. The children's/students' freedom of thought and expression within the school environment, as well as the limitations thereof, are of a disputed nature. In light of such disputes, the problem addressed by the present study concerns the evaluation of the effects of disciplinary regulations and practices on students’ freedom of thought and expression in line with students’ own opinions.
Purpose of Study: The present study aims to identify how secondary school students consider the freedom of thought and expression within the context of disciplinary regulations and practices.
Methods: The study is a qualitative study designed and implemented in a phenomenological pattern. The sample of the study was composed, in line with the maximum diversity sampling technique, of 15 students from amongst all students enrolled at general public and private secondary education institutions located in the central districts of the province of Ankara. Fifteen students were interviewed face-to-face in accordance with the semi-structured interview form. The interviews were recorded on paper and made subject to content analysis. The analysis categories (themes) were defined, in parallel with the objective of the study, as the evaluation of disciplinary regulations and practices applied to students in secondary schools within the dimension of the "Freedom of Thought and Expression". The subcategories were identified with the inductive method during the analyses.
Findings and Results:The opinions of students on the freedom of thought and expression were collected in the categories of “speech” and “participation”. The opinions of students on such practices as hanging banners, distributing brochures and leaflets, printing newspapers or magazines, or wearing pins and armbands, etc. for educational purposes in schools were assessed in the categories of “yes”, “conditional yes”, and “no”. Their opinions concerning the conduct of such practices for political purposes were addressed in the categories of “yes” and “no”. Finally, the opinions of students on the imposition of short-term suspension, expulsion, or exclusion from formal education institutions on students for such practices were assessed in the categories of “consider the penalty dysfunctional” and “consider the penalty both functional and dysfunctional”. The students taking part in the study have a conceptual knowledge of the freedom in question and a perception of the same as the right to speak. The study concluded that students mostly included the practices of hanging banners, distributing brochures and leaflets, printing newspapers or magazines, or wearing pins or armbands, etc., for educational purposes in the scope of the freedom of thought and expression, but excluded the conduct of the same practices for political purposes from the scope of said freedom. Finally, the majority of participants found the imposition of disciplinary penalties on students for the conduct of such practices as dysfunctional.
Conclusions and Recommendations: In line with these results, it may be suggested that disciplinary rules be consistent with the age and maturity of students. Furthermore, objectivity and compliance with international norms and democratic society in the limitations concerning the freedom of thought and expression are of great significance.
Keywords: student rights, disciplinary regulations, freedom of thought, freedom of expression