Law & Courts

High Court Declines to Hear Case On Teaching of Evolution

By Mark Walsh — January 16, 2002 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a Minnesota high school biology teacher who was reassigned because he refused to teach a unit on the theory of evolution in accordance with the district’s curriculum.

Rodney LeVake, a teacher at Faribault High School, did not claim to support creationism or creation science. But when administrators asked in 1998 whether he was skipping over lessons about Darwin’s theory of evolution in his 10th grade biology classes, Mr. LeVake told them he could teach it only if he could also present scientific criticisms of the theory.

“I will ... accompany that treatment of evolution with an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one,” he wrote to his superiors in the 4,090-student Faribault district.

Administrators reassigned Mr. LeVake to teach 9th grade science, which does not cover evolution. He sued the district in state court, alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. He lost in both a state trial court and a state appeals court.

The appeals court said that high school teachers deserve some academic freedom in the classroom, but said that Mr. LeVake’s “proposed method of teaching evolution is in direct conflict with [the school district’s] curriculum requirements.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear Mr. LeVake’s appeal, so he turned to the federal Supreme Court.

“This court has described in soaring terms the nature and importance of the constitutionally guaranteed right of academic freedom,” said the teacher’s appeal in LeVake v. Independent School District No. 656 (Case No. 01-665). “LeVake was reassigned for wishing to provide his students with scientific criticisms of a scientific theory.”

But in its brief in opposition to the appeal, the school district said: “No court has found that a public school teacher’s First Amendment rights extend to choosing their own curriculum in contravention of school policy or dictates.”

The court declined Mr. LeVake’s appeal without comment Jan. 7.

ADA, False-Claims Cases

In separate action last week, the court:

  • Narrowed the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 by ruling that a person must be substantially limited in activities that are “central to daily life” to be considered to have a disability under the law.

The unanimous ruling Jan. 8 in Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams (No. 00-1089) was a defeat for auto worker Ella Williams, who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and couldn’t perform all tasks required on her assembly line job. She sued under the ADA when Toyota refused to accommodate her with a job that she could perform.

In her opinion for the court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said a federal appeals court was wrong to conclude that Ms. Williams had a disability under the law. Justice O’Connor noted that Ms. Williams was substantially limited in performing manual tasks only in the workplace.

“To be substantially limited in performing manual tasks, an individual must have an impairment that prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people’s daily lives,” the justice wrote.

She added that household chores, bathing, and brushing one’s teeth are among such activities, and said that they “should have been part of the assessment of whether [Ms. Williams] was substantially limited in performing manual tasks.”

  • Declined to revive a lawsuit filed by two whistle-blowers alleging that the Orleans Parish, La., school district defrauded the federal government of $7.6 million.

William Garibaldi and Carlos Samuel worked as auditors for the 75,000-student district, which covers New Orleans, when in 1995 they uncovered what they believed was an 11-year pattern of fraudulent unemployment-insurance and workers'-compensation claims. They brought their findings to their superiors, but were rebuffed. The district’s chief financial officer and its outside accounting firms denied any improprieties. The two auditors were fired.

They sued the district under the federal False Claims Act, which allows private citizens alleging fraud against the federal government to sue on the government’s behalf and keep part of any amount recovered.

A federal jury ruled in their favor, and a judge set damages at $22 million. Under the federal law, the two auditors would have split $6 million for pursuing the claim.

Last March, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit threw out the case. A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based court ruled unanimously that school districts and other local governments may not be held liable under the False Claims Act. The court said that the triple damages required under the federal law are partly punitive, and that local governments are generally not subject to punitive damages.

“The punishment, in the form of higher taxes or reduced public services, is visited upon the blameless,” the appeals court said. “Neither the taxpayers nor the schoolchildren of Orleans Parish played any role in the conduct giving rise to the school board’s liability.”

The Supreme Court declined without comment Jan. 7 to hear the auditors’ appeal in United States ex rel. Garibaldi v. Orleans Parish School Board (No. 01-510).

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2002 edition of Education Week as High Court Declines to Hear Case On Teaching of Evolution

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Major Cases on Affirmative Action in Education
The outcome could affect K-12 policies when the justices rule on race-based policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
3 min read
A man talks on his phone on the steps of Harvard University's Widener Library, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 26, 2020.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up major cases on affirmative action in admissions at Harvard University, above, and at the University of North Carolina.
Elise Amendola/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school districts may prohibit private religious expression by public school employees.
4 min read
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy is in a conflict with the Bremerton, 
Wash., school district over his silent prayer after games.
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy stands at on the 50-yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal over his dismissal for praying after football games.
Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate Applying to Schools in Much of the Country
The justices ruled 6-3 to stay an Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule that covered schools in 26 states and two territories.
4 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo last April.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for large employers, including school districts in about half the states.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Students Lose Appeal on Right to Civics Education, But Win Praise From Judges Anyway
A federal appellate court panel commended Rhode Island students for the novel effort, but said Supreme Court precedent stood in the way.
3 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table and Lawyer or Judge working with agreement in Courtroom, Justice and Law concept.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock