Law & Courts

High Court Declines Appeal From Teacher Who Published Tests

By Caroline Hendrie — October 12, 2004 3 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand a lower-court ruling against a Chicago teacher who caused a flap by reprinting part of the city’s battery of standardized tests.

As the editor of the monthly newspaper Substance, George N. Schmidt in January 1999 published tests of English, algebra, and social studies that were part of a three-year pilot program to introduce the Chicago Academic Standards Exams, known as CASE.

The 431,000-student Chicago district, contending that the breach of test security cost it dearly in wasted time and money, sued the newspaper and Mr. Schmidt, alleging copyright infringement. The editor, who was fired by the district in 2000 from his job as a high school English teacher, countered that he had a legitimate journalistic right under the First Amendment to print the tests, which he viewed as flawed.

Upholding a federal district court’s ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, unanimously rejected Mr. Schmidt’s arguments late last year. (“Court Rules Against Editor for Publishing Chicago Tests,” Jan. 14, 2004.)

On Oct. 4, the day that the high court reconvened after a three-month summer recess, the justices declined without comment to take up Mr. Schmidt’s appeal. Substance Inc. v. Chicago Board of Education (Case No. 03-1634) was among hundreds of appeals that had stacked up over the break and were denied review by the high court on its first day back.

Lawyers for the Chicago district said last week that they were relieved that the federal case was over, but that Mr. Schmidt still has an appeal of his firing pending in a state court.

For his part, Mr. Schmidt pointed to the school system’s decision to drop the CASE testing program two years ago as evidence that his fight had not been in vain. Still, he said he was disappointed by the high court’s decision not to review his case, “only because it so reinforces the corporate version of children’s education, and it enables any petty tyrant at any level government to use copyright laws to suppress what little freedom of the press we have left.”

Racially Tinged Cases

Another case the high court passed over last week was brought by the mother of a Mississippi high school football player who suffered permanent injury when he was gouged in the eye by a teammate during an after-school practice in 1999.

Eve Priester sued the 5,200-student Lowndes County school district and its superintendent, as well as coaches and the principal at her son’s high school. She argued that the coaches had encouraged the attack by a white teammate by berating her son for being overweight and African-American, and that administrators had failed to act on her complaints of racial harassment.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit unanimously rejected Ms. Priester’s arguments, finding in January that she had not shown that the district or its officials should be held liable. (“After-School Violence,” Law Update, Feb. 18, 2004.)

Last week, the high court declined to take up her appeal in Priester v. Lowndes County School District (No. 03-10240).

In another racially charged dispute, the high court also let stand a lower court ruling against a fired school administrator who says she lost her job in the Amsterdam, N.Y., public schools because of racial and sex discrimination.

Donna Jeanne Moss, the former director of instruction in the 3,750-student district, contended that she was fired in 1992 in part because she was a white woman married to a black man. She also alleged that she was retaliated against because she sought to combat what she called in court papers “the discriminatory misplacement of Hispanic and black students.”

The district denied the allegations, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, last year upheld a lower court ruling that summarily dismissed her case.

The appeals court unanimously held that the district had cited plausible justifications for not renewing Ms. Moss’ contract, including evidence that she “was not performing her job well” and had “personality conflicts” with other staff members.

Ms. Moss had filed the Supreme Court appeal herself in Moss v. Greater Amsterdam School District (No. 03-1555).

Meanwhile, the court took no action last week on several cases involving church-state challenges to displays of the Ten Commandments in public schools and on other government property.

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