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Wyoming seeking limited NCLB waiver for schools in need of improvement

The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) plans to seek a limited waiver, according to the Star-Tribune, from one element of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  Unlike a number of other states, Wyoming is not seeking a flexibility waiver.  Instead, it is asking the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to allow Wyoming schools labeled as needing improvement to provide tutoring and remedial help to students who need it.

According to WDE’s Title I program manager Jennifer Peterson, the purpose of the request is to allow the state to keep options open for schools that could face tighter restrictions on federal funds under NCLB in the coming years.  NCLB imposes national proficiency standards that now require all students to be reading at grade level and do math at grade level.  It is unlikely, based on past standardized testing results, that most Wyoming schools will meet the 100% proficiency target.

As a result, Wyoming schools will face increasingly severe consequences over the next several years, as long as NCLB is in effect and Wyoming is not granted flexibility by ED.  Although 43 states have received waivers from these consequences in exchange for developing their own statewide school rating systems, Wyoming is not eligible to apply for a full waiver because its school rating system is not yet ready for ED’s seal of approval.

Wyoming is planning to request the limited waiver so schools can provide the tutoring, instead of forcing a student to turn to a private company or outside academic provider.  “This just gives schools and districts the option to become those providers,” Peterson said.  “It’s still up to parents.  Parents can choose who they would like their child to receive services from.”  North Dakota recently received this waiver, Peterson said.  Like Wyoming, North Dakota does not have flexibility from the broader consequences of No Child Left Behind.

Source: Star-Tribune, 5/29/14, By Leah Todd

[Editor’s Note: In May 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Olympian reporting that ED had rescinded the State of Washington’s NCLB waiver.  Stripped of the waiver, the state is no longer exempt from onerous parts of NCLB, which set performance goals that schools across the country have been unable to meet.  As a further result of ED’s decision, school districts in the state will have to redirect roughly $38 million in federal funding toward private tutoring efforts next year, instead of using the Title I funds to pay for district programs for low-income students.  Washington is the first state to lose its waiver.]

Alabama’s tuition tax credit law held unconstitutional on legislative process grounds

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Reese has ruled that the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) is unconstitutional and has issued an injunction barring further application of the law, reports the Montgomery Advertiser.  The law, enacted in 2013, allows parents of students in failing schools to apply for tax credits to use for private school tuition.  Businesses and individuals can also donate to scholarship funds for tuition in exchange for tax credits.

The suit was brought by Alabama Education Association (AEA) president Anita Gibson, state Sen. Quinton Ross Jr. and Lowndes County Superintendent Daniel Boyd against the state.

The AEA argued that the procedures used to pass the legislation violates the state constitution, including requirements that the legislation only address one subject, be read three times on three different days in each chamber, and maintains its original intent when amended.  Reese ruled that the tax credit and scholarship provisions added to the bill violated the original intent and single subject rules.

The AEA also argued that the law violates the state constitution by redirecting funding from public schools to private schools that are sectarian or denominational.  In his judgment, Reese concluded the AAA violated all three procedural requirements, and therefore that the law is “null and void.”  He said because it’s unconstitutional for those reasons, he doesn’t need to address the alleged violation of religion clauses separating church and state.

The injunction doesn’t affect tax credits for expenditures made during the 2013-14 year, but prohibits scholarship donations and tax credits from May 28, 2014 forward.

Source: Montgomery Advertiser, 5/29/14, By Kala Kachmar

[Editor’s Note: In September 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in al.com reporting on AEA’s suit, which argued the AAA was not properly approved and will illegally divert public school money to religious institutions.] 

Court strikes down NC law eliminating teacher tenure; ruling applies only to those with tenure

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood has ruled that North Carolina’s recently enacted law eliminating tenure protections for teachers currently tenured is unconstitutional, according to an Associated Press report in the News & Observer. The judge’s ruling also calls into question another portion of the law, one that required local school districts to offer the best 25% of its longtime teachers four-year contracts that sign away those rights for a $5,000 raise.

Judge Hobgood held that tenured teachers have an established right to a layer of review beyond school administrators when they face firing.  He also concluded that the new law violates constitutional rights that protect contracts and prevent governments from taking a person’s property.  The judge said abolishing teacher tenure “was not reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose.”

Hobgood’s decision does not include teachers that were hired with the expectation of having tenure rights after four years but who had not yet reached that milestone. That means new teachers can be hired without a claim to the tenure rights that veteran teachers who have earned the job protection can continue to enjoy.

The ruling is likely to delay action by local school boards on the part of the law requiring them to offer the best 25 percent of their teachers four-year contracts in return for $5,000 in raises over the four years.  The law states that school boards have to offer the contracts by the end of next month.  Veteran teachers can choose whether or not to accept a contract if one is offered, but Friday’s decision means doing so entails signing away job rights they can keep throughout their career, said Ann McColl, an attorney with the North Carolina Association of Educators.

For over 40 years prior to enactment of the law eliminating teacher tenure, veteran teachers in North Carolina were protected from being terminated or demoted except for reasons that include poor performance, immorality and insubordination. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district also have the right to a hearing where they can challenge their firing or demotion.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, promised that the ruling will be appealed.  Attorney General Roy Cooper has not decided whether to pursue an appeal, spokeswoman Jennifer Canada said.  Lawmakers last year gave legislative leaders the right to defend laws they pass if Cooper refuses.

Source: News & Observer, 5/16/14, By Emery P. Dalesio (AP)

[Editor’s Note: In December 2013, Legal Clips summarized a story from WRAL.com reporting that the filing of this lawsuit by the North Carolina Association of Educators and six individual teachers.]

OCR issues DCL to charter schools on disabled students, ELL, admissions, and discipline

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance on charter schools in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL), reports Education Week.  The DCL was written by Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.  It provides specific guidance for charter schools related to student admissions, students with disabilities, English-language learners (ELL), and student discipline. 

The DCL emphasizes that all federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, apply to charter schools with the same force as to tradition public schools.  In regard to federal civil rights laws, the DCL states: 

These laws extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

On the subject of admissions, the DCL points out that because charter schools have choice-based admissions, they “need to be mindful of the rights of children and parents in the community when publicizing the school to attract students and when evaluating their applications for admission.”  It also stresses that charter schools must avoid “admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color, or national origin from the school without proper justification, and they cannot bar students from admission on the basis of disabilities.”  The DCL, in addition, warns that charter schools are required to be in compliance with the local school district’s desegregation plan, if there is one.

In regard to disabled students, the DCL states that charter schools must provide such students with a “free appropriate public education.”  As to ELL students, charter schools must take “affirmative steps” to help them “overcome language barriers so that they can participate meaningfully in their schools’ educational programs.”  On the subject of student discipline, the DCL echoes more general federal guidance issued in January 2014 that called on schools to back off of zero tolerance policies and ensure that disciplinary policies and practices do not have a “disparate impact” on disabled students or students who are racial or ethnic minorities.

Source: Education Week, 5/14/14, By Evie Blad

[Editor’s Note: OCR’s DCL acknowledges that charter schools provide students with “additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality education” and voices ED’s support for establishing “high-quality public charter schools from which all students can benefit.”

In January 2014, Legal Clips published a Sua Sponte item reporting on OCR’s student discipline guidance.  While the guidance focused on race, it also reminded schools that “Federal law also prohibits discriminatory discipline based on other factors, including disability, religion, and sex.”]

Oregon district sued for allowing police to question student without parental permission

According to The Oregonian, the parents of a student who was questioned by police at school without parental consent have filed suit in federal court against the Beaverton School District (BSD) and the Beaverton Police Department (BPD).  The suit claims the student’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.

The suit alleges that the student was suspended in April 2013 when the principal at Raleigh Hills K-8 school learned the student had drawn a picture of a person being hung by a noose during class.  Two days later, school staff including a school psychologist met with the parents at which time it was determined that the student posed no threat and was allowed to return to school that morning.

The suit claims that during that meeting the student’s mother requested that the student not be interviewed by the police.  The suit charges that after the parents left the meeting school officials called BPD, who questioned the student.  The parents were not notified until after the questioning was completed. 

The suit also claims BPD and BSD have practices of “seizing children from classrooms and subjecting them to custodial police interrogations without a warrant, parental consent or probable cause and exigent circumstances.”  The suit is seeking compensatory damages of $100,000 and punitive damages. 

Both BSD and BPD declined to comment on the suit.

Source: The Oregonian, 5/14/14, By Everton Bailey Jr.

[Editor’s Note: The legal complaint contains five counts, which include a claim for injunctive relief seeking a court order barring BSD officials from seizing students “from classrooms for non-school related activities without a warrant, parental consent or probable cause and exigent circumstances.”

In July 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Washington Post reporting on a Fairfax County Public Schools student who was removed from class and questioned by police after classmates reported that the student had been heard saying he’d smoked marijuana with five other boys, days earlier, after school hours, off campus.  The article stated that in the aftermath of  the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in J.D.B v. North Carolina, lawyers, school leaders and advocates have begun to weigh how the ruling could reshape student questioning.  Many experts expect more Miranda-style warnings from police, and more caution from educators.  The ruling also could prompt more police in schools to call parents before questioning, said lawyer Ken Schmetterer, who wrote a brief on the case for the American Bar Association.

In May 2013, Legal Clips reviewed the decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court in N.C. v. Kentucky, holding that that a high school student, who was detained in the school office for questioning by an assistant principal in the presence of a school resource officer, was entitled to Miranda warnings before the school official began the questioning. The court’s majority held “that any incriminating statements elicited under the circumstances of this case, with a school official working with the police on a case involving a criminal offense, the police failing to give Miranda warnings, and the juvenile being in custody, are subject to suppression under the Unified Juvenile Code and the Fifth Amendment.”] 

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upholds daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance

Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Reg. High. Sch. Dist., No. SJC-11317 (Mass. May 9, 2014)

Abstract: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a state law requiring the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.  It concluded that the Pledge does not violate the state’s equal protection or anti-discrimination laws because the Pledge is a patriotic exercise, whose nature is unaltered by the phrase “under God,” and participation in recitation of the Pledge is voluntary.

Relying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court confirmed that no Massachusetts student may be compelled by law to recite or participate in any ceremony of which the Pledge is a part.  It found the equal protection claim failed because there is no classification, much less a suspect one, created by the practice of reciting the Pledge.  In regard to the argument that the law is stigmatizing, marginalizing and exclusionary for students who are nonbelivers, the court concluded that such feelings are “not legally cognizable for purposes of the equal rights amendment.”  Finally, it concluded that recitation of the Pledge did violate the state’s antidiscrimination law for the same reasons that it does not run afoul of the state’s equal protection guarantees.

Facts/Issues: A group of students and their parents, all atheists and Humanists, and the American Humanist Association filed suit against the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District (ABRSD), claiming that ABRSD’s daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause and its statutory equivalent.  The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

The Pledge is recited, in ABRSD’s schools and in schools across Massachusetts, pursuant to a state statute that provides that “[e]ach teacher at the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools shall lead the class in a group recitation of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.'”  ABRSD does not require participation by teachers or students. The school superintendent’s affidavit stated that “[f]or both students and teachers, participation in the Pledge of Allegiance is totally voluntary.  Any teacher or student may abstain themselves from participation in the Pledge of Allegiance for any or no reason, without explanation and without any form of recrimination or sanction.”

The plaintiffs’ case can be summarized as follows.   They know that they have the right to refuse to participate in the flag-salute ceremony, but they want to participate in it.  As atheists and Humanists, they “do not believe that the United States of America or any other country is ‘under God.'”  The Pledge “suggests that all good Americans believe in God” and that others, like them, “who don’t believe in God, aren’t as good as others who do believe.”  The parents claim that “[i]t is inappropriate for [their] children to have to draw attention to themselves by not participating, possibly leading to unwanted attention, criticism and potential bullying,” and that at their children’s ages, “‘fitting in’ is an important psychological need.” 

There was no evidence that the children have ever been subjected to any type of punishment, bullying or other mistreatment, criticism, condemnation, or ostracism as a result of not participating in the Pledge or not reciting the words “under God.”

The plaintiffs claimed that the Pledge violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause and the state’s parallel statutory guarantee of equal protection because of the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge. The plaintiffs did not raise any claims under the establishment or free exercise clauses of the U.S. or Massachusetts Constitution.

The Massachusetts Constitution provides that “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.” (Declaration of Rights, as amended by art. 106 of the Amendments (art. 106), commonly referred to as the equal rights amendment.)  The Massachusetts Supreme Court noted that “Article 106 does not expressly mention religion. The plaintiffs treat the word ‘creed,’ which is found in art. 106, as synonymous with ‘religion.’  Neither the parties nor any of the amici claim that the difference in terminology is significant for present purposes, and we find no reason to differentiate between those terms here.”

Chapter 76, § 5, of the state’s general laws provides, in relevant part, that “[n]o person shall be excluded from or discriminated against in admission to a public school of any town, or in obtaining the advantages, privileges and courses of study of such public school on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.”

Both sides moved for summary judgment.  The trial court concluded that based on the legislative history of the Pledge law, the inclusion of the phrase “under God” had not converted the recitation from a political exercise to a religious exercise.

Ruling/Rationale: The Massachusetts Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the lower court’s decision, with one justice contributing a concurring opinion.

The court reviewed the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, condensed as follows from the text of the court’s opinion (citations omitted):

The pledge first appeared in 1892 in a nationally circulated magazine for American youths….The magazine proposed that students recite the following words as part of a flag-salute ceremony that would take place in the Nation’s schools, designed to instill a sense of national unity and patriotism: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”  The phrase “one Nation indivisible” was particularly meaningful at that time, in light of the fact that the country had, in its recent past, fought and survived the Civil War with the national unity intact.

The pledge was first adopted by Congress in 1942, during World War II. The pledge was one part of a joint Congressional resolution establishing “a detailed set of ‘rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America.'”…In 1954, Congress amended the pledge to include the words “under God.”  The amendment came during the escalation of the Cold War, and there is some indication in the legislative history that the amendment was intended to underscore that the American form of government was “founded on the concept of the individuality and the dignity of the human being,” which is grounded in “the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp.”

While conceding that the phrase “under God” has a “religious tinge,” the Massachusetts Supreme Court emphasized that courts “have consistently concluded that the Pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one.”  It stated that because of the patriotic nature of the Pledge, “all of the Federal appellate courts that have considered a First Amendment challenge to the voluntary recitation of the pledge in public schools, with the words ‘under God,’ have held the practice to be constitutional.”

The court noted that as a matter of Federal constitutional law no student can be required to recite the Pledge, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).  The court stated:

Although this court has not been called on previously to so state, we take this opportunity to confirm what has been obvious and understood to be the case for the decades since the Barnette case was decided: no Massachusetts school student is required by law to recite the pledge or to participate in the ceremony of which the pledge is a part.  Recitation of the pledge is entirely optional. Students are free, for any reason or for no reason at all, to recite it in its entirety, not recite it at all, or recite or decline to recite any part of it they choose, without fear of punishment.

The Plaintiffs’ argument was based on Article 106 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which states: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.”  In Finch v. Commonwealth Health Ins. Connector Auth., 459 Mass. 655 (2011), S.C., 461 Mass. 232 (2012), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the classifications in Article 106 are subject to strict scrutiny.  The plaintiffs argued that the Pledge practice treats them differently because of their religion (both parties agreed that the term “creed” in Article 106 encompasses religion) and that the difference in treatment could not withstand strict scrutiny analysis. 

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument, finding that the recitation of the Pledge did not create any classifications, much less one based on religion (creed):

Here there is no discriminatory classification for purposes of art. 106 — no differing treatment of any class or classes of students based on their sex, race, color, creed, or national origin.  All students are treated alike.  They are free, if they choose, to recite the pledge or any part of it that they see fit.  They are entirely free as well to choose to abstain.  No one is required to say all or even any part of it.  And significantly, no student who abstains from reciting the pledge, or any part of it, is required to articulate a reason for his or her choice to do so.

The court also relied on the holding in Freedom From Religion Found. v. Hanover Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 1, 4-5 (1st Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 2292 (2011).

Regarding the plaintiffs’ contention that Pledge law denies them equal protection because it stigmatizes, marginalizes and excludes students who are nonbelivers, the court determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the students “actually have been treated or perceived by others as ‘outsiders,’ ‘second-class citizens,’ or ‘unpatriotic.’”  It explained that “this very limited type of consequence alleged by the plaintiffs — feeling stigmatized and excluded — is not cognizable under” the state equal rights amendment.  The court concluded:

Where the plaintiffs do not claim that a school program or activity violates anyone’s First Amendment religious rights (or cognate rights under the Massachusetts Constitution), they cannot rely instead on the equal rights amendment, and claim that the school’s even-handed implementation of the program or activity, and the plaintiffs’ exposure to it, unlawfully discriminates against them on the basis of religion.

Lastly, the court disposed of the plaintiffs’ claim under the state’s anti-discrimination law finding that it failed for the same reasons that their equal rights claim did.

Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Reg. High. Sch. Dist., No. SJC-11317 (Mass. May 9, 2014)

[Editor’s Note: In April 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Asbury Park Press reporting that a family filed suit in state court against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District (MARSD) charging that the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance violates the New Jersey constitution.  The family, who is not identified in the suit, is being represented by the American Humanist Association (AHA). 

In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized the Superior Court decision in Doe v. ABRHSD which held that the state law requiring the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the state constitution’s equal protection clause and statutory guarantee of equal protection, or the school district’s anti-discrimination policy because of the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge.] 

Alaskan municipality’s suit charges state’s school funding scheme unconstitutionally requires a local contribution to school funding

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough (KGB) is suing the State of Alaska in state court claiming that the state’s method of funding public schools coerces municipalities into contributing to local school districts, says an Associated Press (AP) report in the Daily News-Miner.  The state counters that the school funding scheme is no different from other programs requiring local governments to match state dollars.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments the first week of June 2014.  KGB argues that it is unconstitutional for the state to require a local contribution to schools.  It also claims the mandated payment constitutes a dedicated tax or dedicated fund that violates the state legislature’s appropriation powers.  In addition, KGB contends that municipalities are under threat of otherwise receiving no state aid for schools if it doesn’t pay.

The state counters that KGB has misread the state constitution.  It asserts that the borough also “relies on an unspoken, unsupported assumption that the Alaska Constitution requires all education funding to come from the state.” The state also contends that the required local contribution isn’t new and likens it to other programs that make state funding dependent on local matches. KGB rebuts that analogy, saying municipalities can decide not to participate in match programs for capital projects, for example.

KGB is seeking “restitution” for the $4.2 million it paid as its required local contribution for fiscal year 2014.

Source: Daily News-Miner, 5/18/14, By AP

[Editor’s Note: In February 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in Education Week reporting that the state of Alaska had agreed to settle an eight year lawsuit claiming the state had failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide an education to schoolchildren.] 

Kentucky high school allows transgender student to use girls facilities amid controversy

The principal at Atherton High School (AHS) in Kentucky is allowing a transgender student, a biological boy who identifies as a girl, to use the girls’ locker room and bathroom facilities, The Courier-Journal reports, renewing the debate over whether Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) should extend its anti-discrimination policy to cover gender identity.  Complaints have been received from students and about a dozen parents.

The incident has re-opened the debate about whether Jefferson County Public Schools should explicitly include transgender students and employees in the district’s non-discrimination policy, a step the school board so far has chosen not to take.  The district’s policy states that harassment and discrimination is prohibited because of an individual’s age, color, disability, marital or parental status, national origin, race, sex, sexual orientation, political opinion or affiliation or religion — but it does not include gender identity.

Lorenna Cooper, a junior at Atherton and a member of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, said the student is a friend of hers who has “fought exceptionally hard for acceptance.”

“One of the big issues people are having is due to the fact (she) is bisexual and currently has a girlfriend, one she has been with since before coming out as being transgendered,” Lorenna said. “Some people believe she is lying about being transgendered as some sort of attempt to get closer to girls and to harass female students, which is far from the case.  She is one of the sweetest, most genuinely wonderful girls I have ever met, and there is no reason for all of the hate and distrust she has received.”

Clint Elliott, a Louisville attorney with the Christian-based legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, asked the school board Monday night on behalf of several parents to overturn the principal’s decision granting the student access to the girls’ facilities.  “Imagine this scenario — a transgender student, a biological boy who decides that he wants to identify with the female gender, and yet he acknowledges that he has a girlfriend and is sexually attracted to girls,” Elliott said.  “Are parents supposed to be OK with allowing such boys to use the girls’ restroom and locker room facilities?”  Elliott argued that Title IX “certainly doesn’t require opening up opposite-sex facilities.”

The controversy comes nearly two weeks after the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued guidance under its Title IX programs extending federal civil-rights protections to transgender students.  However, it doesn’t offer specific advice on the use of school facilities.

According to a 2012 article published by the National School Board Association Council of School Board Attorneys (COSA), there have been multiple court rulings across the nation addressing equal access for transgender students.  In the article, it states the issue is “problematic because it places school boards in a position of balancing the rights of transgender students to freedom from discrimination and expression, with the rights of other students and parents to freedom of religion and expression, among others.”

School board member Linda Duncan said backing away from establishing a district-wide policy doesn’t mean that schools are ignoring the rights of transgender students.  And she added that the policy committee will be revisiting the issue again later this year.  “Our schools have been dealing with this for years and have made individual accommodations,” she said.  “This is a big issue, but we can’t just open up all of our restrooms to the opposite sex.  We need to be careful so that we are protecting the rights of everyone.”

Source: The Courier-Journal, 5/14/14, By Antoinette Konz

[Editor’s Note: The COSA document referenced in the article is titled “Which Way to the Restroom? Respecting the Rights of Transgender Youth in the School System” and was written by Grant Bowers and Wendy Lopez of the Toronto District School Board (Canada) for the 2014 School Law Seminar in Boston, MA.  The article is available to COSA members.

In February 2014, Legal Clips summarized a decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Doe v. Regional Sch. Unit 26 holding that a school district violated a transgender student’s rights under the Maine Human Rights Act when it prohibited her from using the girls’ communal restroom at school.]

COSA Webinar Thursday on the Cloud and Student Data Privacy

Kathleen Styles, Chief Privacy Officer and head of the Privacy Technical Assistance Center, and Michael Hawes, Statistical Privacy Advisor, U.S. Department of Education, will discuss PTAC’s recent guidance document: “Protecting Student Data Privacy While Using Online Educational Services” in a COSA webinar on Thursday, May 15.  The new guidance document points out gaps in the law that might permit vendor use of metadata.  This webinar gives school attorneys and administrators an opportunity to become familiar with the guidance and the big issues facing schools as they employee cloud tools while maintaining student data privacy. During this session, you will also get a brief introduction to the soon-to-be-released COSA resource for attorneys on student data privacy and cloud computing.

May 15, 2014, 3:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m EDT (NOTE TIME)

Student Data Privacy in the Era of Online Educational Tools: Legal Requirements and Best Practice Recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education

Click here for registration information: https://secure.nsba.org/register/webinar/webinarDetails.cfm

South Dakota district challenged over allowing Bibles to be distributed to elementary students

An Associated Press (AP) article in the Argus Leader reports that the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota (ACLU-SD) is demanding that the Miller School District (MSD) stop its practice of allowing Bibles to be distributed to fifth-graders.  MSD’s board had recently voted to allow Gideons International to distribute pocket-size New Testaments to fifth-graders.

ACLU-SD sent a letter to the school district asserting that a number of courts have prohibited the distribution of Bibles in public schools under a variety of circumstances. The letter states:

Under the Constitution schools cannot intentionally, or unintentionally, advance religion or become too entangled with religious groups.  The courts have repeatedly said that schools must also avoid favoring or appearing to favor a religious view, and they may not create any situation in which students feel coerced to participate in religion.

The ACLU-SD warned MSD that allowing in-school Bible distribution is venturing “onto shaky constitutional ground” and would expose the school district to legal challenges.  The ACLU is also asking the board to craft policies on the distribution of non-school materials that meet legal standards.

Source: Argus Leader, 5/12/14, By AP

[Editor’s Note: In the ACLU-SD’s press release announcing issuance of the letter, the organization’s Executive Director, Heather Smith, said the distribution of  Bibles to elementary school students is “deeply concerning, especially for students of minority religions who choose not to receive a bible.”  The press release also asserts that allowing Bible distribution creates an atmosphere ripe for bullying.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the issue of distributing Bibles in public schools in Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education, 155 F.3d 274 (4th Cir. 1998.]

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