State News Roundup

September 12, 1984 8 min read

Commissioner of Education Robert Boose last month proposed Maine’s first statewide rules and guidelines for parents who want to teach their children at home.

Wallace LaFountain, curriculum consultant for the state department of education, said the regulations were created because home-education guidelines, drawn up separately by each local school district, were inconsistent across the state.

The state guidelines, which will become binding next July, were drawn up by a coalition of school superintendents, home educators, and members of the state education department.

The state has always allowed parents to educate their children at home, Mr. LaFountain said, provided they could submit an educational program equivalent to that offered in public schools to their local superintendent and could also demonstrate an ability to teach their children.

Officials estimate that approximately 60 Maine children are currently being taught at home, but Mr. LaFountain said the education department believes there are some who are “underground,” not in approved programs but unwilling to cooperate with the state.

The new guidelines will spell out who is qualified to teach at home, how much instruction is required, and how a student’s progress will be assessed.

The key provision in the guidelines, Mr. LaFountain said, is the creation of a state-level review commission, to be composed of three practicing home-study educators, a teacher, and a member of the state education department.

The commission will review a case if the local school district denies a parent the right to teach his or her child at home and the parent appeals to the state.

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that a Montrose County school board’s reasons for firing a tenured teacher were not “specific” enough, so it must reconsider the 1979 decision.

According to Reese Miller, a lawyer for West End School District RE-2, school officials moved to dismiss the 5th-grade teacher after receiving complaints from several parents that their children had been pinched, kicked, and fondled by the teacher. The complaints also includ-ed charges that the teacher had re-ferred to students as “stupid” and ''ugly,” Mr. Miller said.

Following an investigation of the complaints, the hearing officer on the case recommended that the board dismiss the teacher on the grounds of neglect of duty and insubordination.

But because the board did not include any grounds for dismissal in its decision to fire the teacher, the court returned the case to the school board for reconsideration, Mr. Miller said.

Under Colorado law, the reasons for dismissal must be clearly spelled out when a teacher is fired, Mr. Miller explained.

The court also ruled in its decision last month that the board had violated “basic concepts of fairness” when it allowed the local superintendent and the teacher’s principal to attend the closed hearing that led to the teacher’s dismissal. The principal and the superintendent had testified against the teacher during the investigation.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that state laws requiring the regulation of church schools do not violate the constitutional rights of church officials and parents who choose to send their children to such schools.

Church officials at the Sheridan Road Baptist Church and the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport had brought suit against the Michigan Department of Education, arguing that state laws requiring all schools to employ state-certified instructors and to provide the department with information on enrollment, courses of study, and teacher qualifications violated their First Amendment right to practice religion freely.

The churches may appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Michael Thomas, a lawyer for the churches.

The Washington State chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has joined several religious, civil-rights, and education groups in petitioning the state’s superintendent of public instruction to write rules governing religious activities in schools.

According to Legal Coordinator Julya Hampton, the aclu initiated an effort to draft the petition after it surveyed a sample of the state’s 299 school systems and found that two-thirds of the respondents had no policy on religious activities.

“There is a great deal of confusion over what is legal and what isn’t,” Ms. Hampton said, adding that “it is our understanding that there are two or three states that have established rules or guidelines on religious activities in schools.”

The 122-page petition includes a set of proposed rules that Ms. Hampton said prohibit religiously oriented activities “that have been clearly declared to be in violation of the separation of church and state under the federal and the state constitutions.”

Among those are the recitation of prayer by teachers, the celebration of religious holidays in schools, and the display in a religious context of religious objects.

Under Washington State law, agency heads have 60 days to act on requests for rules. However, William H. Daley, administrative assistant to State Superintendent Frank B. Brouillet, said last week that the department of public instruction has asked the attorney general to decide whether the department has the jurisdiction to promulgate such rules.

Mr. Daley said that if the attorney general rules that the department does have jurisdiction, its officials will try to develop rules within two months, after holding hearings around the state on the issue.

The Illinois Education Association has launched a legal action charging the Illinois State Board of Education with violating the state and federal constitutions by using public money to fund computer and textbook programs at private schools.

The union’s suit, which is thought to be the first challenge to the expenditure of public funds for private education in Illinois, was filed in DuPage County Circuit Court on Aug. 30. It asks the court to bar “the unlawful disbursement” of state and federal funds administered by the board.

State officials estimate that as much as $30 million was channeled to computer-literacy and textbookms in nonpublic schools during the 1982-83 school year.

Support for such programs, the suit contends, has reached a level “that amounts to unconstitutional support of religious institutions.”

“We have stood by long enough as the state board has used public dollars for private schools in Illinois,” said Reginald Weaver, president of the iea “At a time when funding for public schools has reached a critical level, we cannot let this practice continue unabated.”

The Michigan State Employees Association has filed suit against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights over what it says is their failure to investigate allegations of sex-based wage discrimination among state employees doing similar jobs.

The union represents 27,500 state employees, 15,000 of whom are women, according to Thomas A. Coens, staff director of the msea Pending the outcome of a union election last week, a substantial number of school employees now represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in Michigan could be6come members of the msea, Mr. Coens said, and would be included in the suit.

The suit, filed Aug. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, asks the court to force the federal and state agencies to investigate complaints filed three years ago by the union with the state civil-service department and the Michigan Civil Service Commission, according to Mr. Coens

“We feel that the [state] has intentionally perpetuated the undervaluation of employees,” he said. “The civil-service commission has recognized and admitted that there were disparities that resulted from separate [job] classification systems. Notwithstanding that, they have not taken any action to remedy them.”

Last month, a comparable-worth task force of the civil service commission released a report indicating that female state workers are paid 21 percent less than male workers in similar jobs.

The suit also charges, Mr. Coens said, that the eeoc and the state civil-rights department have a responsibility to investigate charges concerning Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and/or national origin.

Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has asked the Tennessee Education Association to work with the Department of Public Instruction on problems associated with textbooks.

He would like the union to help evaluate the textbook-selection and purchasing process and examine the texts that are currently used in the state’s public schools to determine whether they are of acceptable quality.

Noting that “the quality of our textbooks is a key link in the quality of education in Tennessee,” Governor Alexander suggested that public-school textbooks ought to reflect the goals of statewide education-reform measures.

In a meeting late last month with Donna Cotner, president of the tea, and Commissioner of Education Robert McIlwraith, the Governor said he would like the joint study to be ready by the start of the General Assembly’s 1985 legislative session in January so that the legislature could consider recommendations on textbook improvement, according to Debby Patterson, a3spokesman in Governor Alexander’s office.

The results of the study, which is expected to include recommendations on textbook selection and on the issue of creating a regional textbook-publishing market, will be reported to the General Assembly, the state board, and the state textbook commission within 90 days, according to Ms. Patterson.

A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 1984 edition of Education Week as State News Roundup