District News Roundup
The Michigan Supreme Court has reversed the convictions of an Ottawa County couple who had been found guilty of violating the state's compulsory-education law by teaching their children at home without a certified teacher.
Mark and Chris DeJonge, who teach their children at home because of their religious beliefs, maintained that the state's requirement that they use a certified teacher violates their rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In the 4-to-3 decision last month, the supreme court agreed and overturned lower-court opinions.
The high court held that the state failed to show that the teacher-certification requirement is the least-restrictive means of discharging its interest in the education of the defendants' children.
In practice, the decision means that the state can no longer prosecute those home-schoolers whose religious beliefs prohibit them from using certified teachers, said Gregory Babbitt, an assistant prosecutor in Ottawa County. He added that his office had no plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We consider this a huge win,'' said David A. Kallman, a lawyer who represented the DeJonges.
At the same time, the supreme court vacated the convictions of John and Sandra Bennett, two home-schooling parents who had been found guilty of failing to send their children to school during the 1985-86 school year.
The high court rejected the Bennetts' contention that they have a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment to direct their children's secular education free from "reasonable regulation.''
But the court said the defendants were entitled to an administrative hearing--which they had not had--before being charged to determine whether they were in compliance with state law.
That decision, Mr. Kallman said, was "just as big a win as DeJonge.''
A high school teacher in Longview, Wash., has been suspended for two weeks without pay for giving his students extra credit for buying condoms.
Last week, a hearing examiner upheld the district's decision to suspend Larry Wagle, but also praised the teacher for undertaking the project.
Before participating in the project, which was launched after students read an article about teenagers who were too shy to buy condoms, the students in Mr. Wagle's world-history class were required to obtain their parents' permission. The three 9th graders who took part had to buy the condoms from a store clerk of the opposite sex, as well as to produce a witness and a receipt.
John Binns, a lawyer for the district, said school officials felt the project was inappropriate and "totally unrelated'' to the history curriculum.
Although Mr. Binns also said the teacher violated state guidelines for sex education, Mr. Wagle defended the project as a lesson in AIDS prevention. In addition, parents had the option to bar their children from participating, the teacher noted.
A federal district judge has ordered a Wyoming school district to open its facilities for a privately sponsored baccalaureate service that was to be held in conjunction with a high school graduation ceremony.
Officials of the Albany County school district refused to rent the Laramie High School gymnasium for the baccalaureate last month after State Attorney General Joe Meyer advised that such an act would violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.
Some legal experts have advised school districts that a voluntary, privately sponsored baccalaureate service would be a legal alternative to officially sponsored prayers at graduation exercises, which the U.S. Supreme Court banned last year in its Lee v. Weisman decision.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson issued an injunction on May 25 in Shumway v. Albany County School District requiring the district to allow the use of the facilities for the baccalaureate, which was held on May 27.
The judge said that because the school is generally available for rent by community groups, the district cannot discriminate against the organizers of the baccalaureate based on the religious content of the planned services.
Judge Johnson added that schools do not necessarily endorse or become sponsors of such ceremonies by allowing private groups to hold them in school facilities.
A group of Navajo students on an annual cultural-exchange visit to a private Jewish day school in Los Angeles were barred from visiting the campus last week because administrators feared the children might be carrying a mysterious disease that has killed several Navajos in Arizona.
The 27 Navajo 3rd graders from Chinle Primary School, on the sprawling Navajo reservation, were not permitted to visit the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School because officials were concerned that they may been afflicted with the unknown malady that has caused the sudden deaths of 12 Navajos since late May.
Shirley Levine, the principal of the Heschel school, called the cancellation a "very disppointing and traumatic thing,'' but said she was acting in the best interests of the students.
She added that she was unable to obtain an expert opinion indicating that it was safe for the Indian children to visit.
Local newspapers reported that while the Navajo children visited other parts of Los Angeles, some Heschel students wrote letters expressing their regrets.
The schools have had a pen-pal and student-exchange arrangement since the 1970's.
A Vermont high school participating in a campaign against drunken driving angered both students and parents last month when it staged the deaths of two students.
The controversial incident was part of a daylong series of events at Woodstock Union High School put together by student members of Students Against Driving Drunk.
The national SADD organization encourages students to participate in an annual "White Out Day,'' in which schools paint students' faces white every 23 minutes to symbolize the frequency of drunken-driving deaths.
At Woodstock Union High, students began their "White Out Day'' May 17 with an assembly in the auditorium, during which a school nurse tearfully announced that an alcohol-related car accident the night before had left two seniors dead and a third in a coma. Two minutes later, those students appeared from behind stage curtains, their faces painted white.
A number of students said they were upset by the incident, and several parents criticized the staged event at a school board meeting later that week.
According to Principal Larry Lattanzi, who approved the idea for the mock deaths, the 12 students who planned the event only meant to focus the school's attention on the issue of drunken driving.
"We didn't believe the event to be malicious,'' Mr. Lattanzi said. "Our intentions were good.''
While three-quarters of the student evaluations rating "White Out Day'' described the staged event as "helpful,'' it is unlikely the mock deaths will be duplicated next year, the principal added.
Vol. 12, Issue 37