Safe from Harm
In the wake of several school shootings, a get-tough stance is tempting, but compassion and conversations are just as important. As more and more incidents occur, the temptation looms for the pendulum to swing toward caution and for school leadership teams to adopt rules that give courts plenty of concrete examples that demonstrate their get-tough stance. However, students have been known to say that the security precautions taken by officials make the environment seem more like a prison than a school.
Public Education, Private Faith
If there is a never-ending story, it is that religious believers and public schools are a volatile mix. Religious sentiments intersect with virtually every area of school life. How can board members and administrators successfully navigate this thin, fine line?
The Diversity Test
In many places across the United States, a child can complete 13 years of public school and never encounter a youngster who speaks another language at home. That same child also might never sit next to a fellow student with a dramatically different skin tone—or one who has lived through starkly dissimilar life experiences or contrasting family circumstances that color his or her view of the world. The key question is this: Does it really matter?
The Changing Face of the Law
Change is the essence of public school law. Today's binding rules can be altered dramatically with a single court case, as new state law, or a federal fiat. Gray areas abound. An untold number of subtleties apply. And school board members and superintendents need to stay ever vigilant to the changing landscape. To me, that spells excitement.
How to Live in Harmony with the Law
After a quarter of a century, a trusted legal adviser signs off with a roundup of major cases, legal trends, and tips for new school board members. In this column Ben Dowling-Sendor does a quick review of major cases, statutes, and trends in school law since 1983. And, to help new school board members get off to a good start, he offers Ben’s 10 Tips to New Board Members about living in harmony with school law.
Revisiting the Voucher Debate
The legal battle over school vouchers isn’t over, but the battleground is changing. In its 2002 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court removed a big obstacle to vouchers by ruling that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not prohibit voucher programs. But the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Holmes shows that Zelman did not end the controversy over vouchers, but moved the battlefield from the U.S. Supreme Court to state legislatures and state courts.
When Child’s Play Turns Tragic
A troubling school shooting case raises ‘what if ...’ questions about the need for adult supervision of young students. A 6-year-old boy brought a .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol to school and shot and killed a classmate, Kayla Rolland, in their first-grade classroom. Kayla’s mother sued the district, Kayla’s teacher, and the school’s principal in U.S. District Court, contending that the teacher’s decision to leave the boy in a classroom with Kayla, without supervision, violated the girl’s right to due process.
A Matter of Relevance
To understand a court’s decision, it’s sometimes just as important to recognize what the court did not decide as it is to understand what it did decide. The Supreme Court has said schools can regulate the content of students’ speech in school-sponsored activities, but what about their viewpoint?
Addressing Religious Beliefs in Class
The culture war has turned instruction about evolution and creationism into a political minefield for teachers, administrators, and board members alike. The catchphrase used by opponents of the theory of evolution these days is that public schools should "teach the controversy." But what does that mean? Just what is the "controversy," and how should schools "teach" it?
Turn Off That Phone
First it was tape recorders and transistor radios, then pagers, with their suggestion of drug trafficking and gang activity. Next came the now-ubiquitous cell phones. New technology appears constantly, and at more and more affordable prices. Can districts be held liable for improper use of electronic communication devices?
Drawing the Line Between Science and Religion
The highly publicized case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is just the latest chapter in a continuing saga. The dispute in Kitzmiller stems from the latest development in the evolution (so to speak) of opposition to teaching evolution: the concept of intelligent design. The basic idea is simple: The complexity of nature necessarily implies the existence of an intelligent designer. However, as Judge Jones concluded, intelligent design is just that—a belief, and a religious one at that.
In Personnel Actions, Discretion Pays
Sometimes the best statement about an employee is no statement at all. A discussion of the facts of Burton v. Town of Littleton. This case illustrates the importance for school boards and administrators of handling an adverse personnel decision with great care.
Lifting the Special Ed Burden
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out basic procedural rules for due process hearings in IEP reviews. However, the IDEA doesn’t spell out every rule for these hearings. And it was one type of rule that was the bone of contention in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in a special education case from Maryland, Schaffer v. Weast: Which side has what the law calls the “burden of proof” or the “burden of persuasion”?