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Understanding School Prayer

Understanding School Prayer

Noting the religious fervor under which our very country was founded, it would be virtual insanity to insist that religion has not had a significant impact on American history. The importance of faith in the United States is evident just from looking at the First Amendment.
While new challenges to school policies on school prayer are bound to occur, the Supreme Court addressed this issue in Engel v. Vitale in 1962. In that case, the Court heard and ruled on the legal circumstances surrounding a public school’s choice to institute a morning prayer that swears allegiance to “Almighty God,” which some families professed violated their beliefs as well as the First Amendment itself. A majority of the Court agreed, finding that prayer in school led by school officials that promotes any religion or family of religions (e.g. Christianity) violates the Establishment Clause, and therefore, is unconstitutional.
It must be noted that this does not imply school prayer led by students should be permitted on all counts. Such an assertion would be far from the truth. The issue of prayer in school was revisited by the Supreme Court in 2000 in hearing Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, in which the first complaints were lobbied against a school district for permitting students to speak before those in attendance at school football games in the form of prayers.
Unlike hearing a prayer in the classroom, which is unavoidable since attendance is compulsory, attendance at the football games was voluntary, a fact not lost on the defense. Nonetheless, the majority decided that having these prayers read over the school’s PA system was a violation of the Establishment Clause. Thus, the leading of sectarian school prayer in a promotional, non-educational context is permissible for neither adults nor children.
Still, those supportive of prayer in school have pressed for reversal of these policies, even suggesting that a separate Constitutional Amendment be drafted to allow for individuals and groups to publicly pray in non-sectarian schools. While suggesting that participation in school prayer would still be voluntary under the new Amendment, liberal-leaning individuals and civil liberties organizations like the ACLU have vehemently objected to enacting such a law, insisting it runs contrary to the very freedoms that make the First Amendment and relevant clauses so vital.
To date, no Amendment has been passed specifically on prayer in school, but if it were to happen, it could have serious implications for the notion of the separation of church and State in American society. 

What You Need to Know About School Uniforms and Freedom of Expression

What You Need to Know About School Uniforms and Freedom of Expression

Many times, the adoption of a school uniform in a school or school district is not intended to limit the freedom of expression of its students. While it did not address school uniform usage specifically, the majority ruling of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District is an enduring one in American history.
For one, its findings certified that children in schools must be afforded the same rights of expression as adults and other citizens outside of school, within reason. Moreover, to this day, the “Tinker test” is used when certain school uniform policies and other dress codes are measured against defined standards of reasonableness of limits placed on free expression. 
Likewise relevant are fights over dress codes in schools. As with limitations on freedom of speech regarding vulgarity and other inappropriate language/imagery, clothing with printed obscenities and suggestive themes are generally allowed to be banned by school officials without much recourse for objecting students and their guardianship as an expression of their faith, given it violated the dress code, and most civil liberties groups would argue exceptions should be made for students in this regard.  
In private institutions school uniform provisions are a mainstay and exist as more or less a show of solidarity with the school’s mission. A significant number of public schools have implemented the use of school uniforms, however, not just as a means of promoting “team spirit” or curbing indecent exposure. Some public schools have employed compulsory school uniform policies in trying to improve behavioral and academic standards within their walls. Unfortunately for their officials, in some communities these changes have led to sizable backlashes from the general public.
Many adolescents and teens style their clothing for the very purpose of personal expression and they feel that school uniforms squelch their creativity. Furthermore, some studies suggest that uniforms have little impact on variables like grades and comportment during class hours. Thus, on top from being unsuccessful, they might also be a waste of money. 

Understanding the Juvenile Justice Process

Understanding the Juvenile Justice Process

In the first chapters of the American history of juvenile justice, the age of minority was quite low, making the juvenile justice program largely a non-entity. The courts, espousing the view that children should be held to the same standards of conduct as adults, saw fit to try children as young as eight in criminal courts as adults.
The fate after conviction was also not too rosy for children. Though with time authorities in some jurisdictions provided alternatives to holding children in adult jails, such as work camps, the former solution was still the norm for some time.
It would not be until the 19th Century that the next big policy shift occurred in the history of juvenile justice. For an authentic juvenile justice program to realized, there would have to be a separate court system created to manage the affairs of children, but in a way that was commensurate with their maturational development.
To some extent, juvenile crime was a factor in the promulgation of juvenile courts across the United States, but realistically, not a large one. Though we might think of “justice” only in terms of prosecuting suspects of crimes, the term also implies doing what is right for constituents within that jurisdiction. So, while a revamped juvenile justice program  did take into mind the issue of processing child offenders through the courts, it also saw a need to protect child victims of poverty and neglect.
Though momentum for the creation of juvenile courts did gather in the 19th century, it was not until the very end that an additional court system for juvenile offenders did come to be, and only in the State of Illinois. The Juvenile Court Act of 1899 was a landmark legislative event in the history of juvenile justice.
First and foremost, the Act authorized the literal creation of a judicial court to hear cases of supposed child crimes and to prevent children from failing to reach their potential based on their bad behavior or poor standards of living. Also, this piece of legislation foreshadowed a national movement to change the age of legal majority, raising it to 16 years of age for inhabitants of Illinois.

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Regarding science versus religion in the United States, and more specifically in public education, the debate
over the teaching of evolution in schools is also a brilliant symbol
of this conflict. As a matter of fact, this very subject has a storied history in America.

 

The 1925 court case of Scopes v.
Tennessee
 is one of the most memorable trials in
the history of the country, owing largely to its circus-like atmosphere and the
unorthodoxy of the arguments within. The “Scopes Monkey Trial,” as it
is commonly known, responded to the decision of education authorities to fine
biology teacher John Scopes $100 for leading instruction relating to Darwinian
principles of natural selection, as it violated
State laws that prohibited the teaching of evolution in
schools.


Scopes’ eventual guilty verdict was all but lost in the spectacle of
the proceedings and the clash between evolution theory and creationism. Even as
strict Fundamentalism died a sudden death after the trial, the place of
evolution in schools would come to be contested yet again and the spirit of
said clash would be revived with the emergence of the intelligent design
movement.

 

Some notes about the seeming incompatibility of teaching
creationism, intelligent design and evolution in schools:

 

Scopes v. Tennessee was a case
of national notoriety, despite not being heard in a
Federal court. In 1987, however, the topic of teaching
evolution in schools resurfaced before the Supreme Court
. The case of Edwards v. Aguillard had the
Court weigh in on curricular policies that forced educators to teach
“creation science” alongside evolution in science classes.

 

As intelligent design owes a certain lineage to
creationism, the discussion of Edwards v. Aguillard is relevant.
Like creationism, it stands in opposition to the scientific concepts of
evolution and natural selection, suggesting that evidence of the work of a
“higher power” can be found in nature, and thus, that the design of
our world is more orderly than said concepts would lead one to believe.

 

Unfortunate for its supporters, intelligent design has
received essentially the same treatment as creationism from the courts. Like
the Scopes Monkey Trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) is seen
as somewhat definitive on these issues despite not reaching the Supreme Court.
In line with the idea that intelligent design is mere pseudo-science and a
thinly
veiled version of creationism, Judge John E.
Jones ruled that it was not to be taught alongside evolution in schools in
Pennsylvania, where the case was filed.

 

People on both sides of the discussion have their
objections to the latter ruling. Certainly, supporters of intelligent design in
schools insist that it is legitimate science, despite the notion that it is not
empirically testable, and that it should not be prohibited outright from public
schools. Even those who may not agree with its creationist views may still
object to the black-and-white conflation of concepts in Judge Jones’ opinion.
Technically, intelligent design is not the same thing as creationism, as it
does not specify that a Judeo-Christian God is the “Creator” behind
the design, and thus, believing in one cannot be assumed to be believing in
both.

Make Sure You Know the Laws in School

Make Sure You Know the Laws in School

After events such as the 1999 “Columbine High School Massacre” in Colorado near Littleton, the urgency of intervention efforts to prevent school shootings are more than apparent among educators in public schools as of late more than ever. With the idea that sometimes drastic proactive measures are needed, school officials and administrators within districts have sought to expand staff members’ rights to search lockers for evidence of wrongdoing. However, whether or not this is a violation of children’s Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure is a point of controversy.
The concept of what constitutes an illegal search was notably brought up in 1985 by the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O. The lengths to which school officials can go in the interest of public safety continues to be fought in and out of school lockers. On a related note, the Supreme Court in its decision in Safford Unified School District v. Redding found that a strip search with no evidence that such measures will lead to evidence of a crime is an undue violation of the Fourth Amendment. 
However, as ruled by lesser courts in other cases, evidence of a crime is not always a requirement for all-purpose searches. One particular 1993 Wisconsin Supreme Court case heard arguments over whether or not a search of one hundred or so lockers in a school performed in response to vague rumors of a threat was justified, and whether or not the conviction of a child found to have a loaded weapon and drugs in his possession should be overturned.
Ultimately, the Court found that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment and that the school gave fair warning that lockers (rationalized to be in the public domain as property of the school) could be searched at will. Rulings such as this raise definite concerns about the erosion of the right of privacy in schools. 

Drug Testing
While some people might be adamant about implementing widespread drug testing for professional athletes, with regard to student athletes/participants in middle school and high school sports and other extracurricular activities drug testing is a different ballgame. Random drug testing for juvenile athletes and non-athletes alike is a complicated issue. 
The Supreme Court has weighed in on the subject as recently as 2002 when, in the case of Board of Education v. Earls, it decided that schools could make participation in all after-school activities contingent on passing a urine test. Previously, only athletes specifically were mandated to have to undergo such testing. In finding as it did, the Supreme Court broadly suggested that drug testing in the aim of protecting students and preserving a competitive balance was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. 
On top of this and outside Board of Ed. v. Earls, drug testing in public schools is conducted with the best interests of students in mind, trying to find offenders so that they and their families can work together to effect a plan of counseling and rehabilitation. Still, there are those who criticize random drug testing purely on the basis of its impracticality. For one, drug testing in schools may be a rather pricey way of weeding out a few drug users, especially if it used for all students and teachers.
Even when drug testing is successful in terms of identifying drug users, these results aren’t always the best of news. Numerous analyses, most notably a large-scale 2003 University of Michigan study have shown that random drug testing had little effect on prevention efforts, and for certain classes of drugs, because students thought they could not reliably be detected, use actually increased.

Freedom of Speech

Given the tug of war between the freedom of speech cases such as Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, affirming a school’s ability to edit objectionable content in its own publications, and Bethel School District v. Fraser in 1987, giving a school permission to punish a student for lewd/suggestive speech, helped get the idea across that educators could still reserve the right to keep its halls in check.
Still, within the realm of creative arts and outside of the school’s walls, the intrusion of the schools in these spheres of influence is more controversial in today’s America. In the interest of preventing abuse, suicide, school shootings, and other forms of violence, school officials have intervened in children’s and families’ affairs after reading poetry/stories and looking at pictures depicting death and destruction created in class. Even when this material is explored out of concern for a child, concerns about artistic license and the right to privacy may still remain, especially if these “warning signs” are a false alarm after all.
Schools have also been criticized and litigated against for suspending students for acts contrary to school rules committed off school grounds. Punishing children for threatening/mocking language directed at other students and educators through public Internet forums has been questioned by observers with an interest in civil liberties.
In the 2007 case of Morse v. Frederick, though the Supreme Court found against a child who displayed a message on a sign reasoned to be an endorsement of illegal drugs at an out-of-school event, dissenters argued the suspending school did not have the authority to do so.

School Uniforms and Freedom of Expression
The institution of school uniforms in public schools is often portrayed as a restriction on freedom of expression, though this is a rather narrow-minded approach to the subject of First Amendment freedoms. Indeed, there is a lot to consider regarding school dress code policies, freedom of expression, and school uniforms.
Going back to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, this 1969 case was more than the sum of its parts, as it is a barometer for standards of acceptability in student expression. In ruling that a few students’ right to wear armbands in silent protest of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was protected by the Bill of Rights, Tinker became a symbol of the fact that children have rights to express themselves, even in public places run by adult administrations. 
However, these are not unqualified rights. Students must handle and dress themselves in a way that is befitting of proper conduct. “Provocative” clothing deemed too revealing or inappropriate may be punishable under school rules. As a means of sidestepping these concerns, and in turn, promoting good educational and civic values, school uniforms are growing in acceptance and use in public schools.
From students and non-students alike, charges that school uniforms are restrictive dress codes have come under fire. In this event, direct comparison between students’ dress and freedom of expression is warranted, as the children themselves would allege the former is obscuring the latter. Moreover, there are serious doubts as to the efficacy of school uniforms in the very areas they are supposed to address. Detractors insist these are merely cosmetic changes that do little to address the roots of the more serious issues facing our nation’s schools, such as poor performance in schools and the diminishing role of the family in educating youths.
School Prayer
The distinction between the United States as an implicitly or explicitly Christian country is all too important. While sentiments such as “one nation, under God” included in the Pledge of Allegiance point to an undercurrent of Christian faith in everyday America today, by virtue of the Establishment Clause the case of Engel v. Vitale held that the inclusion of “Almighty God” and other language that promotes the views of one particular class of religions in a morning salutation is unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause. 
While the majority decision of Engel v. Vitale was a landmark decision, it by no means was a final ruling regarding attempts of schools and legislators to try to infuse Christian prayer into public school functions. The Supreme Court was called to lend its opinion on a reprisal of this debate set in motion by the events leading up to Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe. 
The original complaint was in response to the repeated allowance of students to lead prayers over the loudspeakers at high school football games. In all fairness, the ideas that these prayers were student-led and that attendance at these games was voluntary provided some contrast to the Engel case. Nonetheless, the unifying and relevant principle is that prayer oriented towards a specific faith was being recited on school grounds. This too failed the Establishment Clause test. Some have even called for a Constitutional Amendment allowing for the legality of prayer in schools, but this bill’s myriad dissenters highlight, among other things, that this would violate the First Amendment in itself.

Religion in School
Though students and teachers are not expected to check their faith at the schoolhouse door, the context in which individuals practice that religion in American public schools must be specifically defined, as public education is a secular function of society. Certainly, educators must be on guard from allowing their classroom to turn into a pulpit. 
As far as lessons go, teachers may only approach the subject of religion from the purview of general information about these religions or as a subset of larger discussions of history, art and other similar fields, and may not allow children to use oral reports as a proverbial soapbox for their religious beliefs or as a means of converting the other students.
Moreover, any such discussion of religion must not be done in an intimidating manner. No matter whether it occurs in class or not, children should not be put in pressure-filled “or-else” situations regarding their attendance at, say, church events or subscription to certain value systems.
For all these restrictions, pupils and educators should be permitted forums to express their beliefs. Within class, it is imprudent for a teacher to censor a child’s religiously-charged views on a topic as long as they are respectful of opposing stances (e.g. a pro-life statement amidst a discussion of pregnancy/abortion).

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution
Noting the religious overtones of intelligent design theory and the secular tenor of the argument for natural selection, the two are commonly made to represent opposing sides of faith and science, with schools serving as the battleground. The battle of whether or not to teach evolution in public schools rose to national prominence after the Scopes Monkey Trial in the 1920s. In this precursor to the modern debate, evolution squared off against Fundamentalist creationism, which declared that God was responsible for the creation of man, not natural selection/evolution. 
Pure creationism made one last gasp to weave its way into curricula in the 1980s, and while its proponents did not vehemently call for prohibitions against teaching evolution in schools as the Fundamentalists did, they still sought to make it mandatory to teach creationism alongside evolution as an alternative theory. However, as of its majority ruling in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court disagreed with either setup, ruling it unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools because its promotion of Christian values runs against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 
In 2005, meanwhile, Kitzmiller v. Dover ruled specifically against the teaching of intelligent design in its district along similar lines. For some objective observers, though, this was a bittersweet finding of the Court, as although they may not have accepted intelligent design as science (most scientists, in fact, do not), they objected that intelligent design and creationism are actually two related but different concepts; intelligent design does not expressly name God as the higher power responsible for evolutionary changes.

2 Purpose of A Drug Testing

2 Purpose of A Drug Testing

With special regard to student athlete drug testing, in the past decade important decisions have been reached on the extent of the acceptability of this practice. In 2002, the Supreme Court heard Board of Education v. Earls, which initially came to the courts as a result of the complaint that a school’s mandatory urine testing policy to join extracurricular activities without sufficient cause to suspect drug abuse was unconstitutional. A narrow majority found this drug testing not to violate the Fourth Amendment.
Despite the constitutionality of student drug testing, however, questions about its prevalence in schools remain. On paper, drug testing serves two admirable purposes: 
1) it eliminates the presence of dangerous drugs in our educational institutions and in the hands (and bodies) of America’s youths, and 
2) it identifies drug users so they may receive counseling and treatment to address any drug problems they may have. However, research suggests that testing may not be all that effective on curbing rates of drug use. 
A 2003 study conducted by the University of Michigan with a 900-school sample population found no statistically significant improvement to drug use percentages after instituting random drug test policies.
Not only may student drug testing not be effective, but it also may not be cost-effective either. Even if a school only employs student athlete drug testing, that still is going to cost money. Potentially, a school could be set back by thousands of dollars and only catch a handful of students, if that. With so many schools facing cuts, realistically the money spent on student drug testing may be better allocated to other school services.

Understanding Freedom of Speech

Understanding Freedom of Speech

Another one of the school issues that is of national import and is more than tangentially related to freedom of speech is the use of violent or morbid writing and imagery in classrooms.
In the wake of the tragic Columbine shootings of 1999 and the consistently high suicide rate among American teens, school officials are paying more and more attention to anything that can be considered a red flag in terms of a threat of violence in their buildings or a threat of violence made by a particular student against themselves or others. As such, in-class assignments such as drawings depicting the death of others or poetry containing content of a seemingly suicidal nature can warrant intervention by authorities, suspensions or both. Courts are often burdened by litigation one way or another on this discussion.
The question of whether or not the school can abrogate freedom of speech when it does not occur inside the walls of the school have been contested with special fervor in recent years, as the courts are forced to keep up with the rapidly expanding nature of the Internet and other sources of technology, as well as the growing tendency of our society toward litigiousness. The contents of E-mails and social networking profiles and messages, for instance, are not immune from oversight, notably when they contain threatening language.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that schools may punish students for public displays outside of school grounds. In the 2007 case of Morse v. Frederick, a 5-4 majority declared the defendant’s decision to display a “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” sign at an Olympic Torch Relay event was not protected under the First Amendment, as school officials had reason to suspect this was an endorsement of drug use inconsistent with the school’s mission and rules.