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CHAPTER 6Legal Perspectives of Education : 

CHAPTER 6Legal Perspectives of Education Content for Powerpoint taken from: Johnson, James A. (2008). Foundations of American education: perspectives on education in a changing world. Boston, MA: Pearson.


TENTHAMENDMENT The U.S. Constitution does not specifically provide for public education. However, the Tenth Amendment has been interpreted as granting this power to the states. The amendment specifies that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Therefore, education is legally the responsibility and the function of each of the fifty states.


FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge in the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The application of the Fourteenth Amendment to public education as considered in this text, deals primarily with the equal protection clause: “nor shall any State … deny to any persons within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Equal educational opportunity is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. In effect, the rights of citizens of the United States are ensured by the Constitution and cannot be violated by state laws or action.

Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities : 

Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities The Fourteenth Amendment gives every citizen the right to due process of law: both substantive due process (protection against the deprivation of constitutional rights such as freedom of expression) and procedural due process (procedural protection against unjustified deprivation of substantive rights). Teachers have the same rights as other citizens.

THE LEMON TEST:Excessive Entanglement : 

THE LEMON TEST:Excessive Entanglement A useful rubric emerged from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). This case dealt with an attempt by the Rhode Island legislature to provide a 15 percent salary supplement to teachers who taught secular subjects in nonpublic schools and a statute in Pennsylvania that provided reimbursement for the cost of teachers’ salaries and instructional materials in relation to specified secular subjects in nonpublic schools. The Court posed three questions that have since become known as the Lemon test: Does the act have a secular purpose? Does the primary effect of the act either advance or inhibit religion? Does the act excessively entangle government and religion?

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The Louisiana Creationism Act advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety. The Act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it seeks to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose. U.S. Supreme Court Cases Related to the Practice of Religion in Public Schools

Segregation and Desegregation : 

Segregation and Desegregation A troublesome problem for U.S. society has been the history of legal and social separation of people based on their race - Segregation Up until the middle of the twentieth century, the public school systems in many states contributed to this problem through the operation of two separate sets of schools, one for whites and one for African Americans. Segregated schools were supported by the court, state laws, and by the official actions of state and local government administrators. This kind of segregation, based in legal and official actions, is called de jure segregation. Since 1954 the courts and communities have made intensive efforts to abolish the racial segregation of school students, a process that has been called desegregation.

“Separate but Equal”: No Longer Equal : 

“Separate but Equal”: No Longer Equal Until 1954 lower courts adhered to the doctrine of “separate but equal” as announced by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court upheld a Louisiana law that required railway companies to provide separate but equal accommodations for the black and white races. The Court’s reasoning at that time was that the Fourteenth Amendment implied political, not social, equality. The separate-but-equal doctrine appeared to be the rule until May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court repudiated it in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The Court said that in education the separate-but-equal doctrine has no place and that separate facilities are inherently unequal.

Opportunities for Students with Disabilities : 

Opportunities for Students with Disabilities Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act - Under this civil rights act established in 1973, recipients of federal funds are prohibited from discriminating against “otherwise qualified individuals.” Section 504 is a federal statute and regulations, not a court decision. Three important themes addressed in Section 504 are equal treatment, appropriate education, and handicapped persons. Public Law 94-142 - Passed by Congress in 1975, Public Law 94-142 has been amended several times since. This law assures “a free appropriate education” to all children with disabilities between the ages of three and twenty-one. Children with exceptional needs cannot be excluded from education because of their needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) - This act (1992) developed tighter specifications for the delivery of educational services to children with disabilities. The purpose of IDEA is to make available to all children with disabilities a free appropriate education.


TENURE Teacher tenure legislation exists in most states. In many states, tenure or fair dismissal laws are mandatory and apply to all school districts without exception. Tenure laws are intended to provide security for teachers in their positions and to prevent removal of capable teachers by capricious action or political motive. A teacher becomes tenured by serving satisfactorily for a stated time. This period is referred to as the probationary period and is typically three years.

Family Rights and Privacy Act : 

Family Rights and Privacy Act In 1974, Congress passed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is also called the BUCKLEY AMENDMENT. This statute addresses the maintenance of confidentiality of student records. The statute makes it clear that schools and teachers may not release any information or records of students without written permission of the parents. The statute also mandates that parents have the right to inspect the official records, files, and data related directly to their children, including academic and psychological test scores, attendance records, and health data. Parents must be able to challenge the content of their child’s school records to ensure that they are accurate and that they are not misleading or in violation of the privacy or other rights of students.

Teacher Responsibilities and Liabilities : 

Teacher Responsibilities and Liabilities LIABILITY - The responsibility for negligence - responsibility for the failure to use reasonable care when such failure results in injury to another. TORT - An act (or the omission of an act) that violates the private rights of an individual. EDUCATIONAL MALPRACTICE - Culpable neglect by a teacher in the performance of his or her duties. Historically, school districts have not been held liable for torts resulting from the negligence of their officers, agents, or employees while the school districts are acting in their governmental capacity. That immunity was based on the doctrine that the state is sovereign and cannot be sued without its consent. A school district, as an arm of state government, would therefore be immune from tort liability. Unlike school districts, however, employees of school districts have not been protected by immunity; teachers CAN be held liable for their actions. Teachers must act as reasonable and prudent people, foreseeing dangerous situations. The degree of care required increases with the immaturity of the pupil. Lack of supervision and foresight forms the basis of negligence charges.


STUDENTS’ RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES Students too have rights as citizens, including the right to an education. They have due process rights, protection from discrimination, and within limits, freedom of expression. However, schools have the authority to determine when student conduct is disruptive. Much of the recent involvement of the courts with student rights has concerned due process of law for pupils. Due process is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The application of due process to issues in schools is a recent phenomenon. Historically, schools functioned under the doctrine of in loco parentis (“in the place of a parent”). This doctrine meant that schools could exercise almost complete control over students because they were acting as parent substitutes.


SUMMARY The U.S. Constitution is the starting point for viewing schools from a legal perspective. Interestingly, education is not mentioned directly in the Constitution, but the Tenth Amendment has been interpreted as assigning responsibility to each state for education of its citizens. Therefore, how education is addressed in each state’s constitution is of paramount importance. Interpretations of law and the resolution of disputes,whether they be about separation of church and church and state, desegregation, or teachers’ rights, ultimately are decided by the U.S. and state supreme courts.

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That’s All Folks!

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