Another "Parent behaving badly" story

I don't know how I missed it, but by now you likely have heard about the controversy invovling a California student caught cheating and the parent that is suing to keep the school from imposing its normal punishment.  Not that I think the suit will ultimately be successful, but I want to point out the basis for the suit.  It could be instructive in other cases and situations.

Here, the father (a family law attorney) claims that that the policy imposing the penalty -- removing the kid from the special honors program -- is at odds with another school policy that seems to say the penalty would only be imposed for the second (or subsequent) offense.

Why does it matter?  Because the father's position has some legal basis.  If a school enacts policies that conflict with each other, that school may find it is not able to impose the harsher penalty because people could be confused about what punishment they'd face.  In general, when the Pennsylvania courts have seen such issues they have said that it was possible to read the conflicting policies together so there was no conflict.  That may not always be the case, though, so it is a situation to avoid where possible.

Lesson learned? Review policies as well as student/employee handbooks to ensure that you are not treating the same actions differently in those various places.

Finally, for those like me who managed to miss the coverage of this situation in California, you can read about it here.  By the way, the only reason I heard about this situation now is because Aaron Weems of Fox Rothschild's litigation department (family law) brought it to my attention.  Thanks Aaron.

I sometimes ♥ (heart) the Third Circuit

About a week ago, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument about a school's attempt to ban t-shirts and wristbands with the "I ♥ boobies" slogan on them.  This appeal is being closely watched because it can have a wide-reaching effect.  The prior decision was that the phrase has to be understood in its context, but -- as pointed out by the school's attorney during last week's argument -- what then of other good intentioned slogans such as the "feel my balls" slogan of the testicular cancer organization. 

There are various standards for limiting student speech.  The most often cited one is the Tinker standard that requires a substantial disrpution.  It is a high, but not impossible standard to meet for a school. 

The standard that is at the ♥ of this matter (ha!) is from Fraser, where the U.S. Supreme Court said that a school may ban lewd and vulgar speech taking place at school.  The Third Circuit panel hearing this case stated its feeling that the school would not meet the Tinker standard but might meet Fraser.

It is a slippery slope, so the danger is that were the court to allow this slogan, will the court tailor its decision closely enough so that it will not take away a school's discretion to ban something more clearly lewd?  With the success of the "I ♥ boobies" campaign for public awareness through its shock value, you can be sure that there will be others pushing the limits even further.

The lower court's opinion and order can be found here, although it will be what the Circuit Court says that really matters.

PA's Safe Schools Act Regulations

Were you wondering what ever happened to the PA Safe Schools regulations?  Yeah, me too.

So I noticed in the PA Bulletin today that the PA Board of Education just submitted them for IRRC review.  But wait, you say, I thought they had already submitted them some time ago.  Turns out, you are correct.  On March 15, 2012, the Board discovered that the Safe Schools Act regulations it had previously proposed (the new Chapter 10) had "issues of form and legality" and voted to immediately withdraw them. 

Apparently, they felt the changes needed were relatively minor because they also voted to give the authority to make those changes to the Board's Acting Executive Director.  So, the Acting Executive Director got to make all necessary non-policy changes on their behalf to make the regulations comply with proper form and law.  As above, they were just recently resubmitted to the IRRC for final review.

If you want to see the Board's resolution to withdraw the prior version, it is available here.  If you wish to see the new regulations, as well as the few comments issued, they can be viewed here.


Current Employees and Criminal Background, again

As you likely know PDE has taken the position that last year's amendment to §1-111 requires a school to terminate a current employee who was (at the time) properly hired with a prior criminal conviction for a (now) barred offense.  Since those workers could clearly never get another job in a school, it was hardly fair to take away the one they already had.  In a decision from February of this year, there is at least one PA court that agrees with me.

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