To the Editor:
Commentary author Perry A. Zirkel limits his explanation of the effects that court decisions have had on discipline in public schools to the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court case Goss v. Lopez (“Courts and Schools: The Need for Discipline,” edweek.org, Aug. 22, 2008). No one doubts the importance of this landmark case, but its impact pales in comparison to that of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Wood v. Strickland the same year.
In Wood v. Strickland, the high court held that if public school teachers or principals knowingly violated a student’s due-process rights, they could be held personally liable for financial damages. Not surprisingly, the decision had a chilling effect on the willingness of officials to enforce rules regarding discipline, because of the threat of punitive damages that neither the school district nor the teachers’ union covered under their respective policies.
Even if those named in suits filed by parents or other groups ultimately prevailed, the stress created by their defending themselves served as a deterrent to upholding rules and policies about discipline. It is this that Mr. Zirkel fails to understand. Teaching is hard enough without the potential of being sued for acting in loco parentis.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 2008 edition of Education Week as Another Ruling on Discipline that Disrupted the Schools