Some Laws & Court Rulings of Importance to Teachers

1922                Pierce v. Society of Sisters .  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that states can require school attendance, but may not require public school-only attendance.  Upholds parents' right to choose private schools.

1925                The trial of a teacher named John Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, known as the "Monkey Trial", upholds the right of states to ban the teaching of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

1943                West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that requiring students to say the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment.

1947                Everson v. Board of Education of the Townshhip of Ewing,  330 U. S. 1.  A New Jersey statute authorizing district boards of education to pay for transportation for children attending Catholic schools is valid because the expenditure is for a public purpose.

1947               Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of School District No. 71, Champaign County, Illinois,  333 U. S. 203.  Held that dismissing children from public school responsibilities to attend religious classes conducted in public school facilities violates the First Amendment.  A similar case from New York in 1952 (Zorach v. Clauson,  343 U. S. 306), but which differed in that the religion classes were not taught in public school facilities, was held constitutional.

1952.               Adler v. Board of Education of New York.   Upheld the right of the state to not hire or to dismiss an employee on the basis of membership in an organization.

1960                Shelton v. Tucker,  364 U. S. 479.  Upheld teachers' right of free association, while maintaining the employer's right to investigate a teacher's competence and fitness.  The right to free association is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

1962                Engle v. Vitale.  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled against required prayer in public schools on the ground that it violates the First Amendment.

1963                Abington School District v. Schempp.  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania law requiring opening the school day with reading of Bible verses, and a Maryland law requiring recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, violate the First Amendment.

1964                The Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorized the federal government to compel compliance with school desegregation through lawsuits and through withholding of federal funds from school districts that continue to discriminate.  President Johnson's War on Poverty begins to increase federal funding for school programs.

1965                The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Public Law 89-10) and subsequent amendments provide federal funding to help students from low-income families through programs such as Title I (Chapter I);  the Economic Opportunity Act creates Head Start.

1967                Keyishian v. Board of Regents of New York.   Held that membership in an organization is not sufficient cause to dismiss or not to hire.

1967                In Hobson v. Hansen, 269 F. Supp. 401 (D.C.D.C. 1967) Judge Wright found that denying poor public school children educational opportunities equal to that available to more affluent public school children was violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. This effective held tracking to be unconstitutional

1968                Pickering v. Board of Education.  The. U. S. Supreme Court held that teachers have the right to free speech.  That does not include the right to publicly criticize immediate supervisors because that can seriously undermine their ability to work together.

1968                Epperson v. State of Arkansas.    Prohibiting the teaching of Evolution violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause.

1968                Board of Education v. Allen,  392 U. S. 236.  Held constitutional, because it does not violate the First Amendment, a New York law requiring public school authorities to lend textbooks free of charge to all students grades seven to 12, including those in private schools.

1969                Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.  The Supreme Court holds that students do not leave their First Amendment rights "at the school house door."  In other words, students have the same constitutional rights that other citizens have and the school cannot violate them unless their exercise "materially and substantially" interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline.

1971                Sheehan v. St. Peter's Catholic School.   The Minnesota Supreme Court held that teachers are liable for students' injuries under the following conditions: (1) teachers injure the students or do not protect the students from injury; (2) teachers do not use due care; (3) teachers' carelessness results in student injury; (4) students sustained provable injuries.

1971                Lemon v. Kurtzman.   The Court established the "Lemon Test" to determine if an action violates the Establishment Clause: Does the action have a secular purpose?  Is the primary effect of the action to advance or inhibit religion?  Does the action foster excessive entanglement of government in religion?

1972                Title IX of the Education Amendments and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibit sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds.

1972                Wisconsin v. Yoder.   Held that requiring education beyond the 8th grade did not aid in the achievement of the states' goals in requiring education.  Places First Amendment concerns above the state's interest in education.

1972.               Russo v Central School District No. 1.   A federal circuit court held that teachers do not have to participate in flag ceremonies, such as the Pledge.  The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, so the decision stands.

1973                San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. The U. S. Supreme Court held that school funding and the right to an education are not protected under the U. S. Constitution.

1973                Vocational Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace.  Sec. 504 introduced regulations for addressing the needs of handicapped children.   It is applicable to all institutions that receive federal funds; the penalty for non-compliance is loss of federal funding.

1973                Goetz v. Ansell.   The Second Circuit Court of New York held that a school cannot require a student to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, nor can it ask such a student to leave the room.

1974                Family Education Rights and Privacy Act defined how student records must be handled, including who has access to them.  Dramatically changed the kinds of records school kept on students.  (This is the law that makes it illegal to post student grades, for instance.) Commonly known as the Buckley Amendment.

1974                In Lau v. Nichols the Supreme Court ruled that schools must provide bilingual education.

1975                Public Law 94-142 (The Education for All Handicapped Children Act)  increases federal commitment to the education of children with disabilities and establishes a basis for subsequent special education legislation.  (This Law has been amended and expanded several times since 1975 and is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- IDEA.)

1975                Goss v. Lopez.   The U. S. Supreme Court held that students must be accorded due process regarding suspension for 10 days or more.


1977                Ingraham v. Wright,  430 U. S. 651.  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that neither the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment nor the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment apply to corporal punishment.

1979                Palmer v. Board of Education.   The U. S. Court of Appeals held, and the Supreme Court upheld, that a school has the right to fire a teacher who refuses to follow the curriculum for religious reasons.  Thus, one cannot refuse to teach Evolution for religious reasons; one cannot refuse to teach patriotism for religious reason.  Teachers must follow the curriculum.

1980               Hall v. Tauney.   The fourth Circuit Court ruled that parents had no constitutional right to exempt their children from corporal punishment in the schools.  "The state interest in maintaining order in the schools limits the rights of particular parents unilaterally to except their children from the regime to which other children are subject."

1980                Stone v. Graham,  449 U. S. 39.  Held that a Kentucky statute requiring positng of the Ten Commandments on the wall of each public school classroom has no secular legislative purpose and is therefore unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

1982                New Mexico Ass'n for Retarded Citizens v. New Mexico.   Tenth Circuit Court held that even when there are no federal funds involved, the State is still obligated to provide all children with a free and appropriate education.

1982                Board of Island Union Free School District v. Steven A. Pico.   U. S. Supreme Court held that districts can remove books from the library shelves on the basis of their "educational suitability," but not for the purpose of suppressing ideas.  This decision specifically does not apply to questions about adding books to the library.

1982                Plyler v. Doe,  457 U. S. 202.  Denying state funds for the education of children who were not "legally admitted" into the United States violates the Equl Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

1985                Wallace v. Jaffree.   Adding "voluntary prayer" to a period of silence is unconstitutional.

1985                New Jersey v. T. L. O. ., 469 U. S. 325.  Held schools to a lower standard of probable cause relative to searching students, but affirmed that the prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure does apply to schools and that students do have a rightful expectation of privacy.  Ruled that in such matters, school personnel are acting for the State and cannot, therefore, claim parental immunity (in loco parentis).

1987                Olesen v. Bd. Of Education , 676F Supp. 820 (N. D. Ill. 1987).  The decision upheld the school's right to ban apparel that denotes gang membership.

1987                Fowler v. Board of Education of Lincoln County , 819 F.2d 657 (6th Cir.).  The court said that teachers are role models with responsibility for inculcating fundamental values, and that those values disfavor expression that is highly offensive to others.

1987                Edwards v. Aguillard.   The Supreme Court declared the Louisiana "Creationism Act," which required that, if Evolution is taught, Creationism must also be taught, unconstitutional because Creationism is a religious tenet.

1988               Hazlewood School District v. Kuhlemier .  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that school administrators have the right to control the content of school-sponsored publications because they are part of the curriculum.

1992                Lee v. Weisman.   The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that officially sanctioned prayers or invocations in public schools are unconstitutional.

1992                Franklin v. Qwinnet County Public Schools. , 503 U. S. 60 (1992).  Determined that a girl or woman can bring suit -- and be awarded damages -- on the basis of a hostile environment (sexual harassment) being created in the school or workplace.

1993.  Religious Freedom Restoration Act.    Requires government to justify limiting an individual's exercise of religion by showing a compelling government interest and that it has used the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

1993                Jeglin v. San Jacinto Unified School Dist. , 827 F. Supp. 1459 (C. D. Calif. 1993).  This decision established that a school must have a good reason for dress codes.  The dress code must serve some reasonable educational purpose, such as safety.  The school must be able to show a reasonably direct connection.

1993                Florence County Sch. Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993).  The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that a school district is responsible for reimbursing parents for private school tuition costs when the public school does not provide "a free and appropriate" education to a learning disabled child.

1994                Pelazo v. Capistrano Unified School District .  The Ninth U. S. District Court held that requiring a teacher to teach the Theory of Evolution does not violation the First Amendment because neither Humanism nor Evolution are religions.  The Court also said that the footnote in Torasco  that labelled Secular Humanism a religion is incorrect and that a footnote in a Supreme Court case doesn't have the force of law anyway.  The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, thus upholding the District Court decision.

1994                The Gun Free Schools Act (20 USC Section 8921) compels all states receiving federal funds to enact laws requiring school officials to expel for one year any student who brings a gun to school.  States are permitted both to toughen the laws to include knives, for instance, and to modify the punishment on a case-by-case basis.

1995                United States v. Lopez,  514 U. S. 549.  The U. S. Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling that The Gun Free Schools Act is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress' authority.


1995.               Green v. Albuquerque Pub. School. , 899 F. Supp. 556 (D. N. M. 1995).  This decision, which permitted a school to ban "sagging," held that how one wears clothing is not speech or expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.

1996                The U. S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling barring "voluntary" student prayers at school events.  The Circuit Court decision said that "A state policy of prayer at school tells students that the state wants them to pray" and is thus a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

1996                        Dawn v. Monroe School Board.  74 F.3d 1186,1194 (11th Cir. 1996).  Ruled that "a female student should not be required to run the gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to obtain an education." (But the 5th District U. S. Court of Appeals held in another case that school systems are not liable for sexual harassment of students by other students.  The Supreme Court declined to review, and therefore let this decision stand.)

1997                Agostini v. Felton (521 U. S. 203). The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that a federally funded program providing supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged children on a neutral basis is not invalid under the Establishment Clause when such instruction is given on the premises of sectarian schools by government employees under a program containing safeguards such as those present in New York City's Title I program


1997.               City of Boerne v.  Flores.  (95-2074) 73 F.3d 1352.  The Supreme Court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 is unconstitutional because it exceeded Congress' authority under the Fourteenth Amendment.

1998                The U. S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Governor of Alabama, who sought to restore the practice of student-led prayer in Alabama schools.

1999                Cedar Rapids Community School Dist. v. Garret F. ex rel Charlene F., 119 S.Ct. 992 (1999)  Held that, under IDEA, a school district must provide and pay for all necessary services -- including a full-time nurse -- to ensure that a disabled child can attend school.

2000                        Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe.  (99-62) 168 F.3d 806. The Supreme Court held that student-led prayer at extra-curricular activities, as done in this district, violates the First Amendment.

2001                Good News Club v. Milford Central School (99-2036) 202 F.3d 502  The U. S.  Supreme Court ruled that if a school permits other groups to use its facilities for after-school-hours meetings, it must also permit religious groups the same access.  It cannot deny access merely because the content of the meetings is religious in nature.



Fischer, Louis, et al.  Teachers and the Law , 5th ed.  New York: Addison-Wesley, 1998.

Kelly, Evelyn B.  Legal Basics: A Handbook for Educators.   Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1998.

Spring, Joel.  American Education , 9th ed.  Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.  (Especially see Chapter 11, "The Courts and the Schools.")

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