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Landmark cases of American public school education: How the past has influenced the present

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Jenna S Christensen
Abstract:
Landmark cases have shaped the way present American public schools function. Because of this, one would wonder what influences brought about those landmark cases and this study shows a strong relationship between those cases and events which happened in social history. The language of those cases has also been a factor in public schools because of the varying interpretations of the landmark cases. Each administrator could draw his or her own conclusions on the interpretation of the law, which could lead to a fair degree of confusion if everyone had a different interpretation. This study not only looks at American public school law and the landmark cases, but at attitudes and preparation of Nebraska public school administrators with regard to coursework in school law. It also studies the resources available to Nebraska public school administrators and how knowledgeable they are when it comes time to use those resources. A study of various landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), and Debra P. v. Turlington (1979) as well as the social events in history (such as the Civil Rights movement and the Evangelical movement) which inspired those cases being brought to the Court are also studied. The relevance of these cases to this study is included for reader convenience so that one might further understand the relationship between the law and American public school education.

v Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction to the Problem 1 Background of the Study 2 Statement of the Problem 5 Purpose of the Study 6 Rationale 6 Research Questions 7 Significance of the Study 8 Definition of Terms 8 Assumptions and Limitations 9 Theoretical Framework 11 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 13

CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 14 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 53 Statement of the Problem 53 Research Questions 53 Research Methodology 54 Research Design 54 Instrumentation 57

vi Sources of Data 58 Validity and Reliability 59 Data Collection and Analysis Procedures 60 CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 61 Introduction 61 Descriptive Data 61 Data Analysis 75 Results 76 Summary 99 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS 100 Introduction 100 Summary of Study 100 Summary of Findings and Conclusion 101 Recommendations 103 Implications 107 REFERENCES 109 APPENDIX A. ADMINISTRATOR SURVEY 117

APPENDIX B. SURVEY PARTICIPATION LETTER 121 APPENDIX C. PARTIAL LISTING OF CASES REVIEWED 122

vii List of Figures Figure 1. The number of students in the schools where the administrators work. 92 Figure 2. The type of school where the surveyed administrators work. 93 Figure 3. The number of years the administrator has worked in the district. 94 Figure 4. The cumulative experience the respondent has as an administrator. 95 Figure 5. The number of law courses taken in administrative programs of study. 96 Figure 6. The importance of legal knowledge in daily work as a principal. 97 Figure 7. The types of resources available to public school administrators. 98

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CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Introduction to the Problem In 1936, Kurt Hahn, then the headmaster at Gordonstoun School in Morayshire, Scotland, stated that education and peace were the foundations to modern society. He then went on to state that both must be at the forefront for any society to be truly solid and noble. (Hahn, 1936) Because education was a public institution, it was governed by public laws, rules and regulations. However, anyone who has worked in public education understands that there exists a special set of laws that specifically govern the daily existence of public schools from attendance to special education to participation in activities and school curriculum. If an issue existed in public education, there most likely was a piece of legislation that governed that same issue. While having this many laws and guidelines sounds restrictive, it really allowed for freedom—freedom to educate students equally according to their needs regardless of status. Education has been a part of society from the beginning of time. While this study does not go back that far, it examined recent legal history and how it impacted modern day education. It also examined the historical context of selected legal cases and how they came into being. Understanding the history behind the cases allowed for a better understanding of the current application and intent in public schools across America today. While sometimes controversial and divisive, the landmark cases studied here have made a major impact on American public school education today because of the content

2 called into question. The cases ranged in date from 1896 to 2002, but most of the cases were post-World War II. Who can forget learning about Rosa Parks? Who would have thought that her refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, would later help pave the way for one of the largest landmark cases in United States history—Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)? What about the thousands of immigrant students who currently live in the United States and are undocumented, but because of the Equal Protection Clause are allowed and entitled to a public school education? How would public schools justify graduating students who could not read without basic standards? Finally, how would the hundreds of thousands of special education students get to attend a public school and be educated (when appropriate) with their nondisabled peers according to IDEA (1990)? These are all examples of landmark cases which changed how public schools are governed. These landmark cases also decided the fate of the groups represented in each of them, which led to a rich history that serves to guide both present and future leaders so that errors of the past are not repeated.

Background of the Study There are many aspects of American public school education which could be studied here. However, this research will be limited to different aspects of public school life and the landmark cases that have influenced how those services are delivered, how students are educated and how schools are governed. In talking with colleagues, it was discovered that there was more apprehension over the legal subjects presented here; in addition, colleagues mentioned these areas of education more than any others as areas

3 they felt were most likely to be mentioned in a lawsuit. Most of the cases presented here were heard before the Supreme Court and some were decided in U.S. District Courts, but all had an impact either on education directly or on legislation which in turn, directly influenced education as it is known today. Public school education, without these cases, would have been dramatically different from what society experienced in today’s public schools. Landmark Case Examples Try to imagine an American public school in an urban setting with only one race and no special classes for special education students. In this school, students can stay in school until they are 25 or 30 if they have not yet graduated, and girls are not allowed to play sports or be in any school activities. Such practices sound foreign and unreasonable by standards of today’s public schools, but each of those instances is governed by a specific law or landmark case. For example, the issue of desegregation was addressed in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) which guaranteed that schools were to be integrated racially. Public law 94-142 (1975) provided for special education classes for all students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Compulsory education laws defined school appropriate ages and Title IX (1972) guaranteed gender equity in school activities and athletics. By studying the impact of the law and the history behind the law, one can begin to understand how education has been impacted and how it has changed over time to meet the needs of the changing society. If public schools had no governing standards, students could receive varying educations, even within the same school. For example, one teacher may feel sympathetic toward the hardship of Hispanic students and decide not teach the harder curricular areas

4 to those students because they already have enough stress in their lives. On the other hand, this same teacher may expect more from his or her Caucasian students who have lived in the United States for all of their lives and therefore do not experience the life stresses of immigrants. By holding groups of students in the same class to different standards, that teacher has created a class system unfairly. Come test time when testing for adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the test will be valid for the Caucasian students but not for the Hispanic students because they received a different education, even though they were in the same classroom. The issues of varying standards and valid tests, in that they were true measurements of what was being taught, were examined in Debra v. Turlington, 1979. School attendance has also been an issue decided by the Supreme Court. One of the most famous cases involving school attendance and compulsory attendance laws was that of Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972. It was found that in certain religious sects there exists tradition which, if broken, would cause far more damage than good for the sake of education. Such was the case of the Amish. While the Supreme Court did not intend for this to mean that any family who objects on religious grounds can stop sending their children to school, because the Amish tradition had been in effect for over 300 years it was determined that it was established and was a way of life steeped in tradition. This was important to public school education law because it found that there are bound to be exceptions in every case, and that if there are viable grounds for that exception the exemption may be granted. From a casual perspective, it would seem that education and the law are two very distinct and separate worlds; however, they are very much intertwined. Education as it is

5 known today is so because of law that has shaped it. Law has evolved because of the needs of the education world and special nuances which have surfaced as the world changes. Law has made education easier to manage with clear cut guidelines and definitions to follow when making decisions about special populations. These decisions can often be in high pressure situations and can have outcomes that may lead to negative feelings toward schools and those involved in the decision-making progress. Law also ensures that students will receive equal opportunity in and out of the classroom, in school academics, activities and athletics. Laws have also ensured that all students have the opportunity to be successful within the walls of the school building and that everyone should be given a chance at achieving his or her dream.

Statement of the Problem It is not known to what degree today’s public school leaders know how decisions from the past have been applied to present day legal claims and how past decisions have been used as a basis for decisions in current legal cases. Legal claims that have been settled in the past in the form of landmark cases have paved the way for education for many years. However, as new claims come forward older decisions are being used to settle the claims or are being used as the basis for decisions. While these decisions have stood for years and still have merit and purpose within the public schools, new decisions will need to be made in order for current claims to be settled and for education to keep meeting the needs of new populations.

6 Purpose of the Study This research study may help public school administrators determine whether past case law decisions are sufficient in addressing today’s educational issues. The history and context in which the cases were decided are reviewed and their decisions analyzed to determine how they are applied in education today. As new issues have arisen in education, so have new case law decisions. Those decisions will also be analyzed as to whether or not they are, in fact, new or if they are extensions or revisions of prior decisions. If they are extensions or revisions of prior decisions, they will be analyzed for the longevity of their decisions and how well they address a contemporary situation and a specified population group. In looking at how landmark cases have influenced education, one can also better understand the issues facing public education today. By examining the history that evolved into the cases, one can begin to understand the “why” behind each case decision, the intent behind the law, and the original purpose of the law in the first decision. By analyzing examples of applications of this information in today’s schools one can see whether or not the original intent of the law has been applied or if it has somehow been twisted to fit the situation within a particular school building or district. If the law has not been applied according to its original intent, then the case law has not served its purpose resulting in schools who are applying it incorrectly and, in many situations, illegally. Rationale This study is being conducted for several different reasons. The first is that there are few studies conducted on a wide range of legal cases. There are studies completed on single cases or single issues, but only a few studies in which the collective and individual

7 impact of landmark cases on the history of education has been analyzed. The decisions made in landmark cases have corrected wrongs from the past and have prevented further wrongdoings in the present; however, as new situations arise, nuances in the situations may render these decisions obsolete and new ones may need to be made.

Research Questions The decision to begin this study emanated from a passion for the law and a decision to better understand the laws of the education profession. In looking at the current body of research, there were no comprehensive studies completed on the impact of case law on American public school education. Cases are brought to court because a problem exists and cases are decided to solve the problem and prevent future problems from arising. The following research questions guide this study: 1. What influence do social events in history have on American public school law? 2. What current issues in American public school education are currently being served by decisions in case law that do not fully address the educational issues? 3. What influence does understanding the history behind the law, as well as the law itself, have on American public school administrators? These answers will help public school administrators reach beyond district policy manuals so they will have the answers they will need when the difficult issues arise within their schools.

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Significance of the Study When aspiring school administrators go through their training, one course they must take is American public school law. While some future administrators will embrace the course and memorize certain laws, others will simply remember that there are laws they need to follow as administrators and trust that their district policy handbooks will help guide them should they ever run into a legal or policy related question. This study may serve as a reference tool for administrators of public schools—an overview of the important cases that have shaped education as it is known today; but more importantly, it will provide the history behind each case, why it is important, and its applicability to today’s public schools and their leaders. While there is not a problem in the sense of something that is to be resolved, there is an issue to be studied for clearer understanding and more informed application of public education case law. By completing this study, it is hoped that the law of the land of American public school education will no longer be an abstract area separate from current public school education for administrators who rely only on school district policy manuals. Having a clear understanding of the law and the purpose and intent behind the law may help school administrators make decisions that will benefit both current and future students. Definition of Terms The following terms are used operationally in this study:

9 District policy manuals—manuals provided to public school administrators which are the governing policies set forth by the District and local school board. These manuals also include state policies which dictate how a school shall be governed. Court—the United States Supreme Court Assumptions The following assumptions were present in this study: 1. The study is of American public school law only. It does not include laws dealing only with private schools and it does not focus on laws which are applied outside the United States. 2. While the history of public school law dates back more than one hundred years, the cases reviewed here are all post-World War II with the majority heard before the United States Supreme Court. The lowest court that heard a case reviewed in this study is a U.S. District Court. 3. All of the cases reviewed in this study have led to significant changes within American public school education. 4. The study is designed with a past perspective methodology to accommodate the use of historical documents from the post-World War II era. Limitations The following limitations were present in this study: 1. Not every law or every aspect of public education is studied, but only the major aspects of education and only those cases whose impact is still felt today or is still used as a basis for current legal decisions.

10 2. The study is not all-inclusive and it is not meant to be a legal primer—it is meant to be a guide for administrators and educators who need a quick reference on basic educational law and its application to specific issues in public school education. 3. This study is also limited primarily to those laws affecting K-12 institutions, although these laws are also in effect for colleges and universities when applicable. 4. The primary audience is K-12 public school administrators, which limits the study of cases somewhat. By making the study concise and focused on applicable cases to public school education, it could be a useable handbook. 5. The study does not include laws dealing only with private schools and it does not focus on laws which are outside the United States. 6. While some historical cases date back more than one hundred years, the cases decided are all post-World War II with the majority heard before the United States Supreme Court. The lowest court that heard a case reviewed in this study is a U.S. District Court and all of the cases reviewed here have led to significant changes within American public school education. There are studies completed on single cases or single issues, but not many studies where the collective and individual impacts of landmark cases on the history of education have been analyzed. The relationship between law and education will be examined and explored in some depth. In collecting the data, multiple and varied sources will be examined. Cases from varying subjects within American

11 public school education have been selected and those cases have been placed in historical context so that a comprehensive analysis can be completed.

Theoretical Framework Historical analysis has been chosen for the methodology to compare past events and their meanings and apply that analysis to current situations within the public school setting. As with any historical perspective, one cannot merely present the case and the decision itself, but the history behind the case must also be provided. A reconstruction of the social happenings which led to the cases being brought to the forefront will shed new light on why the case was initially brought to court. It will also serve as a reminder for current cases which are similar in nature, but may have different and subtle modern nuances—a reminder that may help further the cause or settle a dispute before it goes to court. Simon and Francis (2001) state that in historical research it is important to understand the why behind the end result. Why did this happen? What was the issue which brought it to the forefront of society? Why is it important to public school education now? How is it applicable to today’s issues which may not be the same as those fifty years ago? Understanding the parallels between then and now may help administrators understand the intent and purpose of the law, thereby creating an understanding of the applicability of the law to their situations today. With regard to other types of research methodologies, the historical approach appears most logical when analyzing past events and using that information to study the possible impact on current events. This study does not lend itself to a quantitative

12 analysis. It does call for a qualitative study through transcript review and syntactical analysis of historical practice in which cases were heard. By studying the words which were used in the transcripts of the cases, one may be able to determine the nuances in society that were present at the time the cases were heard. An historical study will also allow for a deeper analysis of the background behind the cases and the reasons that led to the cases being brought to court. Being able to analyze transcripts from cases in public school law and place those in historical context will allow for a more complete understanding of the law itself, and extrapolation into more comprehensive applications of the law in today’s public schools by school administrators. This understanding of the law’s meaning and intent is important not only in the decision of the specific case, but for other cases that have relied upon that decision. Public laws and educational amendments have been passed due to legal decisions, so it is important to clearly understand the intent of the law. It is also important to understand the historical context of the law because what happens in society often influences public policy, which in turn influences public school education. Because public schools are partially funded by both the federal and state governments, one has to consider what has happened far beyond the area in which the school is located. Federal funding and loss of (or threat of loss of) federal funds can dictate policy within many school districts. Because of this, school administrators must have a solid and comprehensive understanding of American public school law or risk losing valuable and irreplaceable funds. While not grand of scale, this can also happen at the state level. An examination of past histories would allow one to analyze both cases and society to see if parallels between funding and public policy decision making exist.

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Organization of the Remainder of the Study The remainder of the study is organized as follows. Chapter 2 is a literature review of cases and decisions which were selected as landmark cases. They are relevant to this study because they are either historical support for a landmark decision or are landmark decisions on their own. Either way, they are included in the literature review as an important part of the body of research. Chapter 3 describes the methodology and why the historical method was chosen for this particular study. The specific reasoning for choosing this perspective over others will be discussed at length and other possible methodologies which could have been used will also be discussed as a comparison. A discussion of historical research as a method of choice for this study will also be included. Chapter 4 is the heart of the study where the research results will be presented. The research questions will be answered and historical context will be described to provide a comprehensive background for the readers to fully understand and appreciate the study’s findings. The study is concluded in Chapter 5 and ideas for further study are presented. The estimated timeline for this project will be 6 months from the approval date of the dissertation proposal.

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CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW In education there have been a number of legal precedents and cases that have shaped student life, instruction, and the governance of schools themselves. While not every single case is examined in detail here, landmark cases that have shaped American public school education are currently in the news as potential landmark cases for the future. When one thinks of American public school education and landmark cases, names such as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), Tinker v. Dew Moines (1969), Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), Plyer v. Doe (1982), Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), Title IX (1972), Title VI (1964), and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) come to mind as well as many others, depending on one’s engagement or role in public education. All of these cases and many more were instrumental in shaping American public school education as it is known today. Separate But Equal Sarah Roberts is a name that hardly anyone knows, but her case forever changed public education when her father persisted and filed suit against the State of Massachusetts on grounds that his 5 year old African American daughter’s school was inferior and separate from her Caucasian peers (Alexander & Alexander, 1998). When did the “separate but equal” movement start? It started with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896; however, the most dramatic climax was not until the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) that “separate but equal” came to the forefront of American

Full document contains 134 pages
Abstract: Landmark cases have shaped the way present American public schools function. Because of this, one would wonder what influences brought about those landmark cases and this study shows a strong relationship between those cases and events which happened in social history. The language of those cases has also been a factor in public schools because of the varying interpretations of the landmark cases. Each administrator could draw his or her own conclusions on the interpretation of the law, which could lead to a fair degree of confusion if everyone had a different interpretation. This study not only looks at American public school law and the landmark cases, but at attitudes and preparation of Nebraska public school administrators with regard to coursework in school law. It also studies the resources available to Nebraska public school administrators and how knowledgeable they are when it comes time to use those resources. A study of various landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), and Debra P. v. Turlington (1979) as well as the social events in history (such as the Civil Rights movement and the Evangelical movement) which inspired those cases being brought to the Court are also studied. The relevance of these cases to this study is included for reader convenience so that one might further understand the relationship between the law and American public school education.