The Precision of the Law
Court opinions sometimes involve a complicated interplay of legal doctrines and facts—including facts peculiar to one case—that can't be summed up in a few words. In such cases, school attorneys have their work cut out for them to carefully explain the precise—and often limited—significance of a judge's decision. A lawsuit from Lubbock, Texas, over a decision by school officials to bar a student group, the Lubbock Gay Straight Alliance (LGSA), from meeting on a high school campus—Caudillo v. Lubbock Independent School District—illustrates this important point.
A Question of Privacy
Sometimes even a foolish lawsuit can teach valuable lessons. This month's lessons—courtesy of a federal court lawsuit from New Jersey, C.N. ex rel. J.N. v. Ridgewood Board of Education—are about conducting a student survey on sensitive issues while protecting the privacy rights of students and parents.
A Measured Response
The U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in 1995 and 2002 to uphold random, suspicionless drug testing of student athletes, and then of students in any competitive extracurricular activities, answered some questions about the constitutionality of drug testing. At the same time, they generated other questions: Does the Fourth Amendment permit random drug testing of teachers? How about random testing of students in any extracurricular activities? How about random testing of all students? A case from Kentucky, Crager v. Board of Education of Knott County, Kentucky, tackles the first question.
Friday Night Tragedy
Injuries are an inevitable feature of any sport, especially a contact sport. But, as shown by a Nebraska case—Cerny v. Cedar Bluffs Junior/Senior Public School—school districts have some responsibility to take reasonable steps to minimize injuries to their teenage athletes.
Every Gadfly Is a Critic
No one likes to be criticized—certainly not in a 10-page letter from a subordinate. But, as this month's case illustrates, responding to this kind of critique with tact and professionalism is the mark of a good supervisor. It's the right thing to do, and it could save your district a lot of money.
Seeking the Right Balance
Brown ushered in an era of sweeping change in law and public education that eliminated the moral stain of state-imposed school segregation. But, the 14th Amendment has a built-in limitation: It protects individual rights only from government action—not from acts by other individuals. Fifty years after Brown, we can now see that this limitation also reduces the power of courts to remedy racial segregation in public schools.
Personal v. Professional
How do you deal with a gadfly, an employee who criticizes school policies and practices in public? Sometimes gadflies open our eyes to serious problems in government agencies. But sometimes they couple valid criticism with a disruptive manner. A case from North Carolina, Love-Lane v. Martin, illustrates the difficulty of responding prudently and lawfully to a gadfly.
Searching for Security
How can educators stop violence at school? A recent case from California, United States v. Aguilera, illustrates that teamwork, common sense, and adherence to the law can work hand in hand to do just that.
A Wise Neutrality
Here's my idea for a new bumper sticker: Context Matters. I know, it's not very catchy. But in two words, it does sum up the gist of the law governing student religious expression in public schools. For a more thorough discussion, let's consider a recent decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Walz ex rel. Walz v. Egg Harbor Township Board of Education.
Nuisance and Nonsense
A lawsuit over a student's free speech rights could—and should—have been avoided. From Charlottesville, Va. —the home of Thomas Jefferson and his vision of individual rights—comes a curiously unnecessary case about the free speech rights of students, Newsom v. Albemarle County School Board
The Federal-State Tango
A school board's decision to fire an employee, or not to renew a probationary employee's contract, can be potentially explosive if the reasons are publicized. A Missouri case—Gibson v. Caruthersville School District No. 8—demonstrates the delicacy of this problem as a legal issue and the complex interplay of state and federal law necessary to address it properly.
Keeping It Simple
Punxsutawney, Pa., has long stood as a symbol of welcome simplicity in American life. Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, emerges each year on Feb. 2. If he sees his shadow, we can expect six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, then we can expect an early spring. And now, a case from Punxsutawney—Donovan ex rel. Donovan v. Punxsutawney Area School Board—shows that even in law, some things are simple. This Pennsylvania case asks, 'What is instructional time?'