Summertime Blues

February 08, 2005 2 min read

Students have always griped about being given too much homework, but when Peer Larson of Hales Corners, Wis., was assigned math work to do over the summer, he went to court.

Mr. Larson, a 17-year-old junior at Whitnall High School, and his father, Bruce Larson, sued Wisconsin state Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster, three local school administrators, and his honors precalculus teacher for assigning homework over the 2004 summer break.

The student worked six days a week last summer as a Cub Scout camp counselor and found his homework, which was required to receive credit for a fall honors mathematics course, to be too heavy a load, Bruce Larson said in an interview last week.

The elder Mr. Larson said the extra work caused his son unnecessary stress because he did not learn of the homework until the last week before school let out for the summer.

In their lawsuit, the Larsons seek to make summer homework voluntary, and they contend that students should not be subject to the school’s authority after the state-mandated 180-day school year ends.

“School is not the be-all and end-all of a child’s upbringing,” said Bruce Larson.

But the state’s top lawyer is firing back. Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager responded to the Larsons’ Jan. 10 lawsuit with a stern scolding.

For starters, she said in court papers, the state superintendent has no authority over the local school curriculum, which is a matter for the district school board.

“Having to complete three homework assignments taking several days each during the course of an entire summer is not substantial damage,” she added.

Ms. Lautenschlager also said the Larsons should have known that their lawsuit “failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted against the [state] superintendent under law.” The state department of public instruction told the Larsons their lawsuit would have no legal merit beforehand, according to the attorney general.

Ms. Burmaster is requesting reimbursement for attorney fees because “the Larsons should have known that their complaint was without any reasonable basis in law or equity,” Ms. Lautenschlager said in a motion to dismiss the case filed late last month in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

Peer Larson has won at least one appeal: The teacher who made the summer assignment gave him a break, counting only two of the three assignments in his semester grade.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2005 edition of Education Week