Law & Courts

New Term Likely To Leave Mark on Affirmative Action

By Mark Walsh — October 08, 1997 3 min read


The U.S. Supreme Court term starting this week could leave a significant imprint on affirmative action and related school policies.

In addition to weighing in on a Piscataway, N.J., schools case involving a race-based teacher layoff, the court will consider this fall whether to review California’s Proposition 209, the ballot measure that bars affirmative action in public education, employment, and contracting.

In Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson (Case No. 97-369), civil rights groups are asking the justices to strike down the measure, which bars the state and local governments from granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin has filed a brief urging the high court to take the case, saying Proposition 209 has cast doubt on the legality of voluntary desegregation and programs aimed at helping minorities and girls. “The issue of whether a state can eliminate all public education programs targeting racial minorities, including programs designed to eliminate the effects of segregation, is one of exceptional importance,” Ms. Eastin wrote.

So far, the high court has granted review to only a handful of cases of interest to educators for the term that began Oct. 6. Besides the Piscataway case, the justices just last week agreed to hear an appeal from Texas on whether the state must get federal approval under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before assigning teams to oversee troubled school districts. Educators are also following other cases that could result in significant rulings on employment and local government law. (“Court Accepts Voting-Rights Case Involving School Takeover Law,” in This Week’s News.)

Harassment, Immunity

In Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc.(No. 96-568), the court will examine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the main federal employment-discrimination law, covers instances of alleged sex discrimination between workers of the same sex. The case involves alleged physical and verbal harassment of an oil-rig worker by his male colleagues.

Besides school districts’ interest in Title VII developments, the dispute’s outcome could have an impact on the growing number of cases involving student sexual harassment of other students. That is because the Department of Education takes the position that the body of law developed under Title VII sets the framework for student-harassment lawsuits filed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination based on sex in schools receiving federal funds.

Gwendolyn H. Gregory, the deputy general counsel of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., noted that the Education Department’s office for civil rights contends that same-sex harassment in schools is a potential violation under Title IX. “That turns all kinds of harassment into a Title IX violation,” said Ms. Gregory, whose group disagrees with the OCR’s interpretation.

The OCR does not argue that Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Oncale, the high court will review a federal appeals court ruling that categorically rejected the idea of same-sex harassment under Title VII.

The NSBA is also following a case from Massachusetts that will determine whether local officeholders are entitled to absolute immunity from federal civil rights lawsuits for their legislative actions. Bogan v. Scott-Harris (No. 96-1569) involves a lawsuit against the Fall River, Mass., City Council over a budget vote that eliminated an administrator’s job. A federal appeals court said individual local legislators cannot be sued in federal court over acts that are considered legislative, such as the adoption of a budget.

Ms. Gregory said that when school board members vote on school policies, “that is in the nature of a legislative act.”


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 Federal Appeals Court Backs Socioeconomic-Based Admissions Plan for Boston 'Exam Schools'
The court denies an injunction to block the plan for next year and says considering family income in admissions is likely constitutional.
3 min read
Image shows lady justice standing before an open law book and gavel.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Wary About Extending School Authority Over Student Internet Speech
In arguments, the justices looked for a narrow way to decide a case about the discipline of a cheerleader over a profane Snapchat message.
7 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court on April 23. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a major case on student speech.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Weigh When School Board Censure of a Member Violates the First Amendment
The justices will decide an issue that has become more salient as a few board members rant inappropriately on social media.
5 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.
Law & Courts Federal Judge Dismisses Challenge to Transgender-Inclusive Athletics Policy in Connecticut
A federal district court judge said the lawsuit by cisgender female athletes was moot because two transgender track athletes had graduated.
3 min read
In this Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 photo, Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. In the track-and-field community in Connecticut, the dominance of Miller and Yearwood has stirred resentment among some competitors and their families.
Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet in New Haven, Conn., in February 2019.
Pat Eaton-Robb/AP