Education

Full-Court Press

October 01, 2001 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As the Supreme Court begins a new term this month, its gavel stands poised to leave a heavy mark on education. On the high court’s 2001 docket, for example, is a suit that calls into question the common classroom practice of “swapping papers.” After students in Owasso, Oklahoma, were asked to grade each other’s work, one child was so ridiculed, his mother claims, that he wanted to drop out. She sued the district under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which bars schools from releasing student records “without the written consent of their parents.” Then there’s the case President Bush is keeping his eye on: a dispute over the constitutionality of school vouchers that stems from a scholarship program in Cleveland.

When it comes to schools, the court has most often addressed questions of civil rights, religious prayer, and students’ right to free speech. As constitutional law professor Jamin Raskin notes, however, “the Supreme Court never wants to sit as a ‘super school board.’ ” Still, each year, education-related cases creep onto the docket, and below are a few decisions, handed down last term, that are worthy of teachers’ attention.


Good News Club v. Milford Central School

Case: The Rev. Stephen and Darleen Fournier are sponsors of Milford, New York’s Good News Club, a chapter of a national organization for 6- through 12-year- olds that promotes belief in Jesus Christ. They claimed their group’s right to religious freedom was violated when, in 1996, the school district refused the club’s request to meet after hours in a K-12 school. District officials said their decision complied with a state law forbidding the promotion and worship of specific religions in schools and maintained that only nonreligious groups could meet on the campus.
Ruling: Voting 6-3 in favor of the Good News Club, the justices declared that the denial of the club’s request to meet was a violation of its members’ First Amendment rights.
Opinion: The court noted that holding such a gathering on school grounds would “ensure, not threaten, neutrality toward religion.” Wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, “We cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward the religious viewpoint if the club were excluded from the public forum.” (Read the text of the opinion.)
Significance: Some conservatives think this could be a step toward judicial support for President Bush’s religious school vouchers, but other court- watchers say the decision merely reinforces past judgments. (“Court Boosts School Access for Religious Groups,” June 20, 2001, Education Week.)


Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association

Case: In 1997, members of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, a nonprofit group that oversees interscholastic sports among the state’s public and private high schools, accused Brentwood Academy, a private school five miles south of Nashville, of recruiting 8th graders for its football team. They claimed that the school violated rules prohibiting members from using “undue influence” to enroll players by offering talented middle schoolers free tickets to games and inviting incoming freshmen to practice with their team while still in the 8th grade. Hit with a $3,000 fine, four years’ probation, and a two-year exclusion from tournaments, Brentwood sued the association for free speech violations. TSSAA responded that, as a private group, it could not be sued under the First Amendment.
Ruling: By a margin of one, the Supreme Court allowed the lawsuit to proceed.
Opinion: Noting that 84 percent of the association’s voting members come from public schools, the justices called TSSAA an organization “pervasively entwined” with state school officials and held that its behavior should be considered state action. Justice David Souter maintained that “there would be no recognizable association, legal or tangible, without the public school officials.” (Read the text of the opinion.)
Significance: The ruling indicates that school athletic associations, depending on the makeup of their memberships, may be considered state actors and, as such, are bound by the First Amendment. (“Sports Group Ruled to Be Arm of State,” Feb. 28, 2001, Education Week.)


Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly

Case: A group of tobacco manufacturers and retailers claimed their rights, as defined by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, were violated by a 1999 ban on tobacco advertising written by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. The regulations attempted to curb underage smoking by, among other things, prohibiting tobacco advertising within a 1,000-foot radius of schools, parks, and playgrounds. The federal advertising act prohibits state-imposed regulations on cigarette advertisements and promotions.
Ruling: A five-justice majority said the advertising act preempts the Massachusetts restrictions, which they also declared in violation of the First Amendment. The court, however, reminded both parties that states may set limits-such as forbidding youths under the age of 18 from purchasing cigarettes-on tobacco sales.
Opinion: According to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “The state’s interest in preventing underage tobacco use is substantial, and even compelling, but it is no less true that the sale and use of tobacco products by adults is a legal activity.” (Read the text of the opinion.)
Significance: The court’s decision limits states’ abilities to curtail youth smoking because, as research shows, advertising plays a greater role in a teenager’s decision to smoke than even peer pressure. (“As Term Ends, Supreme Court Takes Student-Grading Case,” July 11, 2001, Education Week.)


PGA Tour Inc. v. Martin

Case: Student athletes may reap the benefits of golfer Casey Martin’s legal battle. Martin suffers from a degenerative circulatory disorder that prevents him from complying with a PGA Tour rule obliging all tournament players to walk its courses. When he turned pro in the late ‘90s, he sued for-and won-the right to use a golf cart, citing the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. (Under ADA, groups responsible for “any place of public accommodation” must allow “reasonable modifications” for disabled individuals as long as the fundamental nature of the activity is preserved.) The tour, which claims that walking-induced fatigue tests players’ shot-making abilities, appealed the decision and lost again.
Ruling: Voting 7-2, the justices deemed PGA tournaments within the scope of ADA and compelled the tour to assist Martin.
Opinion: Although the dissenters, Justices Antonin Scalia and Thomas, argued that “the rules are the rules,” the majority made the case that, riding in a cart with his disease, Martin incurs at least as much fatigue as a non-disabled golfer who walks. (Read the text of the opinion.)
Significance: Student athletes, including learning-disabled kids, often invoke the ADA to have sports eligibility requirements waived. This decision may help legitimize their complaints. (“Ruling on Disabled Golfer Could Be Applied to Schools,” June 6, 2001, Education Week.)

—Jennifer Pricola


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP