Education

  • June 12, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Alice O’Brien, NEA General Counsel

    Sixty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and uprooting the deep roots of segregation in our society. The victory came after decades of legal work, by a small group of fierce civil rights advocates, paid little and subjected to threats and public denigration. Over the past two years, a team of corporate lawyers, retained and paid by multi-millionaires, have sought to cloak themselves in that rich legacy. 

    Their case, styled Vergara v. California, challenges the statutes that provide California teachers with their most basic employment protections – 1) the right to notice and an opportunity for a hearing before an impartial panel before an experienced teacher is terminated; and 2) the rule that layoffs for budget reasons proceed in qualification (credential) and seniority order unless the district has a special need to depart from that order. None of the challenged statutes determine a teacher’s class assignment or classify teachers or students in any respect; rather they each apply to all teachers in California across the board.

    As an initial matter, the two month trial demonstrated that none of the nine student plaintiffs in the case had been harmed in any way, much less denied their fundamental right to an education under the California Constitution. Two of the plaintiffs go to charter schools, which are not subject to the challenged statutes and two more attend Los Angeles pilot schools in which teachers may be released at the end of each school year without regard to the challenged statutes. The remaining plaintiffs failed to prove that they had ever been assigned to a “grossly ineffective” teacher due to the challenged statutes, which is the term plaintiffs coined to describe the type of teachers whose assignment to a classroom could implicate students’ fundamental rights. In fact, many of their teachers that they sought to tar as grossly ineffective had stellar evaluations and one was recently selected as a teacher of the year.  

    Despite this basic failure of proof, the trial judge struck down all of the employment protections for all teachers in California. The judge applied strict scrutiny to the statutes, finding that some small fraction of teachers—on the order of 1-3 percent—are “grossly ineffective,” and that those teachers’ students have been deprived of their fundamental right to an education. Because, in the judge’s view, each statute could be improved in some respect (by extending teachers’ probationary period, stripping down dismissal rights, and reconfiguring layoff criteria), the judge concluded that none could survive strict scrutiny. 

  • June 12, 2014
     
    More than 500 of Pennsylvania’s inmates are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. In an op-ed for The New York Times, ACS board member Linda Greenhouse notes the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a case involving a Pennsylvania inmate serving a mandatory life sentence for a crime he committed at age 17.
     
    Rick Hills at Prawfsblawg reviews the decision by Judge Rolf M. Treu of the Los Angeles Superior Court to dismantle the California tenure system for teachers.
     
    Michael Kagan at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights breaks down Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio, discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 2002 Child Status Protection Act and why young immigrants may be waiting a lot longer to be with their families. 
    State judges met in Philadelphia to address how special interests are influencing the court system.
     
    Peter Hardin at GavelGrab reports on how politicized courts are contributing to a miscarriage of justice.
     
    April Dembosky at NPR explains how registering for the Affordable Care Act may prevent former inmates from returning to a life of crime.
  • June 11, 2014
     
    On Tuesday, Judge Rolf M. Treu of the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that teacher tenure laws violated students’ civil rights. Lawyers for the teacher’s union asserted that the decision placed blame solely on teachers without considering the grave effects of economic inequalities and public school funding on student performance. Jennifer Medina at The New York Times reports on the decision that may lead to big changes throughout America’s classrooms.
     
    Microsoft is fighting another warrant from federal prosecutors forcing the company to hand over a customer’s email.  The case marks the “first time a corporation has challenged a domestic search warrant seeking digital information overseas.” Steve Lohr of The New York Times has the story.
     
    Indigent prisoners who wish to file claims without paying fees may do so in forma pauperis (IFP). At CAC’s Text and History Blog, Brianna Gorod notes why the “three strikes” provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which limits the number of times a prisoner can be eligible for IFP status, is unconstitutional. 
     
    On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that children waiting for immigration visas with their families must go to the back of the line when they turn 21 years-old. Lawrence Hurley at Reuters analyzes Scialabba v. de Osorio.
  • May 27, 2014

    by Charles Withers

    While May 17 marked the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, inequality along racial lines remains an important concern in today’s classrooms. In recent years, courts have addressed the egregious effects of education inequality within American higher education by weighing the necessity of race sensitive admission policies. According to a study conducted by The New York Times, in states that have banned race-cautious admissions, “prominent public universities have tended to enroll fewer black and Hispanic freshmen.” With these realities in hand, many have turned their focus to Supreme Court decisions like Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action to measure America’s progress in combating these inequalities in today’s college classrooms.

    Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action challenged an amendment to the Michigan constitution banning race sensitive admissions policies in public universities and addressed whether voters can choose to prohibit state universities from considering race in the admissions process. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the plurality, upholding Michigan’s ban and overturning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s ruling that the voting policy violated the Equal Protection Clause.  

  • May 22, 2014
    Last night, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Russell Bucklew, a Missouri inmate convicted of rape and murder. The Court granted the stay after Bucklew’s lawyers noted that his rare health condition would cause excruciating pain if he was executed via lethal injection. Robert Barnes and Mark Berman at The Washington Post discuss the role Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. played in the decision.
     
    On Tuesday, Judge John E. Jones III of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage violated the Constitution. Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Penn.) announced that he will not appeal the decision. Trip Gabriel at The New York Times reports on the victory for gay and lesbian couples in the Keystone State. 
     
    Writing for TIME, Andrew Rossi comments on the state of higher education as it begins to benefit more private than public interests.
     
    At Jost on Justice Kenneth Jost explains why “the history of the fight for marriage equality is yet to be written.”