States News Roundup

March 20, 1991 2 min read

Rejecting a challenge based on religious grounds, a federal judge has upheld an Illinois statute that requires elementary-school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day.

U.S. District Judge Ann C. Williams ruled Feb. 28 that the 1979 Illinois law does not violate the U.S. Constitution or Supreme Court precedent because it does not provide for any punishment for students who refuse to recite the pledge.

“Learning the Pledge of Allegiance can certainly be considered part of a ‘suitable curriculum’ for students,” the judge wrote in her opinion. The law is “rationally related to the legitimate state interest of instilling knowledge of and appreciation for patriotic values in public-school students.”

The law was challenged in a suit brought by Robert Sherman, an avowed atheist, on behalf of his son, a student in the Wheeling school district.

Mr. Sherman sued school officials and the state’s Attorney General, charging that the law violates his rights under the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

Mr. Sherman’s suit contended that the phrase “under God” in the pledge violates the Constitution’s ban against government establishment of religion.

The suit was dismissed on a motion for summary judgment from the Attorney General.

Judge Williams said the Illinois law does not necessarily conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1943 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, which held that public-school officials could not force students to recite the pledge.

The judge noted that school officials in Wheeling did not require Mr. Sherman’s son to abide by the law.

The Attorney General of Maryland has ruled that county governments may dig deeper into school budgets to offset severe budget shortfalls plaguing the state.

The ruling, issued this month, amends a 1984 state law that requires local governments to maintain at least the same level of spending per pupil as in the previous year.

Under the ruling, county officials need no longer consider such costs as school openings and construction as operating costs when calculating the bottom line for the per-pupil figures. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. ruled that such costs are one-time expenditures, not operating costs.

Charles I. Ecker, the county executive of Howard County, had requested the opinion to allow him to give the county’s school system about $7 million less than it expects next year.

Because Mr. Curran rejected some of the Howard County executive’s arguments, Mr. Ecker said he now expects to save about $2.9 million.

School officials across the state say the ruling may lead to layoffs and program cuts.

School districts in Oregon will have greater leeway in choosing textbooks under revisions in the state’s textbook-adoption process endorsed by state education officials.

The state board of education late last month approved changes making it easier for districts to win approval for textbooks that do not appear on the official list adopted by the state, said Barbara Wolfe, who is supervising the textbook-adoption plans for the Oregon Department of Education.

The changes reflect efforts to encourage site-based management and local responsibility, and to “give local districts the freedom to make choices,” she said last week.

Additional changes may be in the offing, she added. “We’re really going through a complete study of texbook-adoption procedures,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 20, 1991 edition of Education Week as States News Roundup