As the New Session Begins, Court Adds New Education Cases, Rejects Others
Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week, on the first day of its 1983-84 term, that it would review the right of nontenured teachers to seek protection under a federal civil-rights law that permits individuals to seek damages for violations of constitutional rights.
Lawyers say the case, Board of Education of Paris Union School District No. 95 v. Vail (Case No. 83-87), is an important one for educators, because if the Court rules that Jesse A. Vail, who was dismissed as athletic director of the Paris Union, Ill., school system after one year, does have legal standing to sue under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, school systems nationwide would be vulnerable to similar claims by probationary teachers.
Mr. Vail sued the school system, under Section 1983, on the grounds that his Constitutional right to due process was violated in 1981, when he was dismissed a year before the end of his two-year contract. The school system has argued that although it verbally agreed to employ Mr. Vail for two years when it hired him in 1980, it was legally able to dismiss him after one year because he did not have tenure.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois ruled that Mr. Vail does have a right to seek protection against a violation of his due-process rights under Section 1983 and ordered the school system to pay him $19,850 in damages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit concurred with this position.
In another civil-rights case of importance to educators, the Court agreed last week to allow the Reagan Administration to participate in oral arguments as a friend of the court in Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts (Case No. 82-206). That case involves the authority of a lower federal court to overturn a "last-hired, first-fired" layoff system in Memphis in order to preserve improvements in the racial balance of the city's fire department.
The Administration has opposed the overturning of seniority systems on such grounds in the past.
The Court also released the names, without comment, of several cases that it has decided not to hear. These include:
Members of Jamestown School Committee v. Schmidt (Case No. 83-158). The Court let stand a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that a Rhode Island statute that requires school systems to provide free transportation to nonpublic-school students who attend school outside the school systems' regular attendance boundaries does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The appellate court made its decision on the grounds that the Supreme Court had, in other cases, allowed such students greater state-supported transportation benefits than public-school students.
Camer v. Eikenberry (Case No. 82-2101). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a trial court's decision to dismiss, for lack of "subject-matter jurisdiction," a suit by a public-school student asserting that he was excluded from an honors program in mathematics, was given inadequate instruction in Washington State history, and otherwise encountered difficulties in school that denied him due process and equal protection under the law. The Supreme Court let this ruling stand.
Cincinnati City School District Board of Education v. Roncker (Case No. 82-1890). The Court left intact an appellate court's ruling that a lower federal court improperly limited its review of the school system's placement of a mentally retarded child to an examination of procedural safeguards. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, interpreting the Education for All Handicapped Children Act more broadly, instructed the lower court to reconsider whether the services that necessitated the student's placement in a county school for the mentally retarded could feasibly be provided in a special class located in a public school.
Clark v. Arizona Interscholastic Association (Case No. 82-1893). The Court let stand a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the Arizona school athletic association's policy of barring boys from playing on girls' athletic teams does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitition, even though the association permits girls to play on boys' teams.
Krall v. Bethel Park School Dis-trict (Case No. 83-160). In another case involving the dismissal of a teacher, the Court let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that a local school system, not the state education agency, has the authority to set standards for immorality under which a teacher may be fired. The case involved a teacher who was absent from school for two days in order to attend a conference and later explained the absence by saying she was sick. The school system then fired her for immorality.
Elizabeth A. Frame v. South Bend Community School Corporation (Case No. 82-1713). The Justices left intact a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that the South Bend school system had the right to deny bus transportation to nonpublic-school students who do not live on existing public-school transportation routes.
The parents of several parochial-school students contended unsuccessfully that the school board's policy violated their constitutional rights of free exercise of religion and equal protection.
South Park Independent School District v. U.S. (Case No. 82-2014). In a desegregation case, the Court let stand an appellate court's affirmation of a federal district court's school-desegregation plan that incorporates random assignments of children to schools. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had also ruled that "while perfect racial balance is certainly not required, achievement of such balance is certainly not constitutionally prohibited."
Nelson v. Tuscarora Intermediate Unit No. 11 (Case No. 82-2058). The Court let stand the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's affirmation of a state law requiring a private residential institution for the mentally retarded to pay tuition for one of its patients who attended public school, but whose parents live outside the state.
In all, the Court last week added 17 cases to its 1983-84 docket, bringing to 130 the number it will hear this term. It will add more cases to its docket in coming weeks.