Education Week - July 8, 2015 - (Page 14)

K-12 Issues Fall Within Sweep of Recent High Court Rulings By Mark Walsh Even when the U.S. Supreme Court is not weighing cases directly involving education, many of its decisions reach into the schools. That much is evident from the blockbuster term that ended last week and included rulings on free speech, employment and housing discrimination, same-sex marriage, criminal law, and health care-all of which had implications for teachers, districts, parents, or children. "The court made monumental decisions this term that will change the face of this country for a long time to come, and in cases that implicate schools" and educators, said Alice O'Brien, the general counsel of the National Education Association, which filed friend-of-the-court briefs in several cases. At the start of the term, Education Week reported that the justices had not taken up a case directly involving a K-12 school district or local school officials for more than five years. This newspaper's analysis last October-and public comments by at least some justices-suggested that they believed the high court should not get deeply involved in school disputes. The five-year string was broken last week, when the court said it would review a case involving teachers' unions and the collective bargaining fees they charge those who decline to join. Ten district superintendents are parties (albeit secondary ones) in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the justices are being asked by union opponents to overrule a key precedent and hold that such fees violate the free-speech rights of nonmembers. (See related story, Page 1.) That case, and one that again examines race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas, are on the high court's docket for next term. For the term that just ended, the justice's rulings from various corners of the law will be felt directly or indirectly in the K-12 arena. Three of those cases-on pregnancy discrimination, religious accommodations, and Internet threats-were decided earlier in the term. But the final two weeks of the term saw a flurry of decisions that were being awaited with interest by educators. Statements to Teachers At the top of that list is Ohio v. Clark, a case that had raised fears among school groups about whether teachers could be considered agents of law enforcement if they ask a student about signs of child abuse. The court ruled unanimously that the rights of the accused were not infringed when prosecutors relied on a teacher's testimony when a young victim was unable or unfit to testify. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for six justices that under the court's recent precedents about the Sixth Amendment right of defendants to confront the witnesses against them, a child's statements to his or her teachers about abuse or other wrongdoing are unlikely to be considered "testimonial"-that is, statements that would normally invoke the amendment's protections. "Statements by very young children will rarely, if ever, implicate the confrontation clause," Justice Alito said. And the majority gave little credence to an argument by the defendant-an Ohio man convicted of physical abuse of a 3-year-old-that the state's legal requirement that teachers and certain other professional report signs of abuse effectively turned them into adjuncts of law enforcement. "Mandatory-reporting statutes alone cannot convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law-enforcement mission aimed primarily at gathering evidence for a prosecution," Justice Alito said. Ms. O'Brien of the nea said the union and other education groups were pleased with the ruling, after a lower-court decision in the case had raised fears that teachers would be "suddenly deputized" as law-enforcement officers. Cynthia Jones, an associate law professor and expert on criminal law at American University, said it wasn't surprising for the court to conclude that a child's statements to a teacher are unlikely to be testimonial. But as for Justice Alito's more sweeping conclusion that a child's " It is common sense that the relationship between a student and his teacher is very different from that between a citizen and the police." JUSTICE SAMUEL A. ALITO JR. Ohio v. Clark statement would rarely trigger the confrontation rights of a defendant, "I am more troubled by that," she said. Government Speech The same day of that decision, the justices ruled in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc. that a state could keep a Confederate emblem out of its specialtylicense-plate program, even though the state issued plates for a wide variety of other groups and causes, such as colleges. The decision holds implications for speech battles in schools, both because Confederate symbols have often been a source of friction and because of the ruling's discussion of government-sponsored speech. "Texas's specialty-license-plate designs are meant to convey and have the effect of conveying a government message," Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for a majority that also included Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justice Alito, in a dissent joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy, acknowledged that the Confederate battle flag was a "controversial symbol" that evoked respect for Southern heritage to some, but "slavery, segregation, and hatred" to others. But "the flag expresses a viewpoint," Justice Alito said, and the state's rejection of it for its license plates was unconstitutional view- point discrimination. (The court issued its decision a day after a white gunman killed nine black people at a church in Charleston, S.C., but just before that crime sparked a fresh debate about displaying the Confederate battle flag.) Aside from Confederate symbols, briefs and opinions in the case cited other areas that could implicate the government-speech doctrine, including ads in school yearbooks, school districts' internal mail systems, and college-campus bulletin boards, both electronic and the oldfashioned kind. Nadine Strossen, a professor at New York Law School and a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she worried the decision could spur schools to invoke the government-speech theory any time there was some mix of student and school participation in a message. "It's hard to find a limiting principle in this," she said in an interview. Health-Care Law and Marriage The two highest-profile decisions are likely to be felt in the schools, too. In King v. Burwell, the justices ruled 6-3 that tax credits under the Affordable Care Act are available nationwide. President Barack Obama's administration was supported in the case by the nea , which cited its interest in ensuring that its members, and the children they teach, have access to affordable health care. Meanwhile, a " The right to marry ... safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education." JUSTICE ANTHONY M. KENNEDY Obergefell v. Hodges 14 | EDUCATION WEEK | July 8, 2015 |

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - July 8, 2015

Education Week - July 8, 2015
Nev. Moves to Split Clark Co. District
Crazy Quilt of State Responses To Cries of Overtesting
Common Core Trickles Into All States
Advocates Scrutinize Head Start Proposals
Supreme Court To Decide Case On Union Fees
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Ed. School Critic Levine, MIT Partner to Launch Teacher-Prep ‘Lab’
Ariz.’s 20-Year-Old ELL Case May End, But Debate Rages On
Spelling—en Español—Catches On, With Bees in Multiple States
Blogs of the Week
ISTE Conference Examines How Tech Is Reshaping Education
Budgets, Testing Issues Took Legislative Stage
States Struggle With How to Ensure Good Teachers in All Schools
K-12 Issues Fall Within Suite of Recent High Court Rulings
In States, Plenty of Talk But Incremental Action on Early Ed.
Lengthy Floor Debate Looms for U.S. Senate Over ESEA Rewrite
Fresh Entrants in GOP’s Quest For White House
House, Senate Appropriations Bills Would Cut Back Ed. Dept. Funding
What We’ve Learned From a Longer School Day and Year
The Illusion of Closing The Achievement Gap
The ‘Power’ of Adversity
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Scholars: Challenging Racial Injustice Begins With Us

Education Week - July 8, 2015