Educating children is one of society's most important functions. As a result, there is a robust area of law dedicated to education policy, special education, and other legal issues with regard to the education system. Education law is particularly fascinating because it constantly seeks to strike balances: the balance between ensuring each child receives a proper education while maintaining a parent's right to decide what their child should learn; the balance between maintaining student safety, while respecting individual constitutional rights; the balance between accommodating students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and strict budgetary concerns; and the balance between giving teachers job security and intellectual freedom, while ensuring that they competently educate their students. This section has articles with in-depth information on education law for parents, teachers, students, and educational institutions.
Choice and Compulsory Education
Education law is governed by the states. Every state requires all its children to be educated. For most students, this means that parents must send their students to an accredited public school, private school, or parochial (religious) school. Enrollment in a public school depends on where the primary residence is located (used to determine the proper school district). However, since many public school boards are underfunded and underperforming, many parents try to enroll their child in alternative schools such as magnet schools or charter schools. Some parents choose to keep their children at home and take the responsibility of teaching themselves and homeschooling their children. The section entitled "Education Options" has more information on the different ways to educate children.
Student Safety and Student Rights
A parent's primary concern is always a child's safety, yet parents routinely place their children's safety in the hands of the school system for large portions of the day. School boards take this responsibility very seriously and enact codes of conduct designed to keep students safe and focused on school work. These codes of conduct often include bans on drugs and weapons on school property. They also try to take into account the civil rights of students and teachers, including the first amendment right to free speech. However, certain types of adult speech, such as obscenity, hate speech, and sexualized speech are considered disruptive to the functioning of the school and educational programs, and are severely limited. As personal technology creeps further into students' lives and poses an ever-increasing distraction, schools are also cracking down on the use of technology. Finally, schools and school employees are taking a more active role in protecting students against bullying in all its forms.
A school can only protect students in ways that do not infringe on their constitutional civil rights. Students have fewer rights than adults, but they still have limited rights to free speech and privacy that schools must respect. Furthermore, schools cannot automatically expel students for bad behavior; instead, they must provide the student with notice and a hearing before revoking education privileges. The section on "Student Rights" explains further.
Finally, according to federal law, each student is entitled to a "free appropriate public education." This means that schools are required to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Students, parents, school employees, and doctors must collaborate, give assessments, and determine the best way to educate each child with special needs so that they can be adequately prepared for life after school, including setting up an individual education plan “IEP". An IEP can include things like giving a child extra time on a test to using earphones while completing work in order to maintain focus, and so much more depending on the need of the student. Another plan is called a “504" plan, and is based on 20 U.S.C. 794, or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and prohibits discrimination based on physical or mental disabilities. These special education laws will follow your child, if your child needs an IEP or 504 plan, past high school and into higher education—whether that be at a community college or university, even law school if they should so choose to attend. The 504 plan could potentially be used with employers, but it is best to check with an employment law attorney for further guidance. Additionally, under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools are also required to implement certain educational accommodations for students with disabilities.
The Department of Education (DOE) indicates that the NCLB allows states and regions more flexibility in how they use federal education funding. In listing the benefits of the NCLB, the DOE emphasizes basic requirements, however. One of these requirements is that states and school districts must “give parents easy-to-read, detailed report cards on schools and districts, telling them which ones are succeeding and why." Nevertheless, under state law, with less federal oversight, regional schools are freer in how they use federal education funding. Nonetheless, an emphasis on accommodating students with disabilities remains key to the initiatives of the DOE. Amongst the accommodations provided to students with disabilities, for example, are those for testing.
See "Special Education and Disabilities" for more information.
Education Law for Teachers
The law has measures designed to protect teachers' rights as school employees, as well as teachers' academic freedoms. One major vehicle for protecting teacher rights is teachers' unions, which with collective bargaining powers, set standards on how long a teacher can work and what duties they may undertake. The section on teachers' rights has more information on education law as it applies to teachers.
- Special Education and Disability Access: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
- Special Education and Disability Access: Additional Legislation
- How to Prepare for IEP Meetings
- Special Education and Disability Access: Alleging IDEA Violations
- Q&A on Disability Discrimination in Education Under Federal Law
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