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Elevating Equity and Justice

Ten U.S. Supreme Court Cases Every Teacher Should Know

In Elevating Equity and Justice, education policy expert and former civil rights lawyer Robert Kim takes a deep dive into ten cases of historical impact, providing background and information on each as well as an explanation of why it is important to know them. He brings the source material to life without overwhelming you with “legalese” and dos and don’ts.

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Elevating Equity and Justice is just what the civic-minded activist in you is looking for—an accessible and engaging guide to connect your teaching to the times we live in, providing insight into ten United States Supreme Court cases that impact schools and teaching. Some of the cases will be familiar to you and some will not. Why these cases? They cover the landscape of both civil rights and civil liberties, exploring topics and situations teachers and administrators face every day. Plus they’re interesting—they involve real problems of real people who are raising legal and policy issues thorny and weighty enough to have reached the highest court in the country. To read them is to take a mini course in the history of education in our nation and in the civil rights and civil liberties issues that educators and students encounter on a daily basis.

Robert Kim, an education policy expert and former civil rights lawyer, has spent much of the last two decades focused on the rights of students, as well as the legal rights and obligations of schools and educators. In Elevating Equity and Justice, Bob takes a deep dive into ten cases of historical impact, providing background and information on each as well as an explanation of why it is important to know them. He brings the source material to life without overwhelming you with “legalese” and dos and don’ts.

For each case, Bob provides a summary of the judicial opinion; some interesting history or perspective about the case, including more recent legal developments; the implications for educators and schools; classroom and community voices that provide insight from real teachers dealing with these topics; tips for how to be proactive; and a short list of resources to further your knowledge about the case or the topics covered in it. 

Reading these ten cases certainly won’t address every situation educators encounter. Chances are you’ll be drawn to reflect on what these cases mean for your teaching practice or your school. How can they help you address the needs of a particular student? What civic lessons do they teach? What values do they impart? Elevating Equity and Justice helps educators consider the needs of all of their students and elevates the discussion, teaching, and practice of equity at school. 

Additional Resource Information

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Contents

Foreword by Lily Eskelsen García, President, National Education Association
Introduction

Case #1:  Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999)
Schools are responsible for appropriately addressing sexual harassment and violence among students.
Topic: Sexual Harassment
Main Lesson: Educators must respond appropriately to student-on-student sexual harassment; students have a right to be protected from harassment under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Case #2: Plyler v. Doe (1982)
Schools may not deny school-age children who are undocumented immigrants a free public education.
Topic: Immigrant Students
Main Lesson: Schools must admit (and educators must treat) immigrant students, including undocumented students, equally; undocumented students have a right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Case #3: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007)
Schools can take steps to increase student racial diversity—but need to be careful in how they do it.
Topic: Racial Integration
Main Lesson: School districts must be careful when considering the race of individual students in their plans to integrate or desegregate schools; some race-conscious integration plans by public schools may violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Case #4:  Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017)
Students with disabilities are entitled to an education reasonably calculated to enable them to make progress.
Topic: Students with Disabilities
Main Lesson: Educators must offer students with disabilities an education reasonably calculated to enable them to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances; students with disabilities have a right to more than a minimal educational benefit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Case #5: San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973)
Children do not have a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution to a public education.
Topic: Equal Educational Opportunity
Main Lesson: A child does not have a federal constitutional right to an education in the United States or a federal right to equitably funded schools; as a result, most school funding challenges now take place in state court asserting violations of state law.

Case #6: Lau v. Nichols (1974)
English learners are entitled to equal educational opportunity and a meaningful education.
Topic: English Learners
Main Lesson: Students with limited English proficiency are entitled to equal educational opportunity and a meaningful education; English learners deserve an equal education under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Case #7: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)
Students’ free-speech rights must be respected unless the speech substantially interferes with school operations.
Topic: Free Speech
Main Lesson: Students’ speech or expression may not be abridged unless it substantially and materially interferes with school operations; students have a First Amendment right of free speech.

Case #8: Lee v. Weisman (1992)
Public schools may not persuade or compel a student to participate in a religious exercise or prayer.
Topic: Separation of Church and State
Main Lesson: Certain religious activities in the public school setting, such as a graduation prayer, are unconstitutional; when the government coerces anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, it violates the First Amendment.

Case #9: Safford Unified School District v. Redding (2009)
School officials may not conduct excessively intrusive searches of students.
Topic: Student Privacy
Main Lesson: School officials may not conduct excessively intrusive strip searches of students; students have a Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

Case #10: Goss v. Lopez (1975)
Students facing discipline have a right of due process.
Topic: Student Discipline and Due Process
Main Lesson: Students are entitled to at least some protections (including the right to tell their side of the story) before they are suspended or expelled from school.  

Endnotes
Index

In Depth

For this book, I’ve selected just ten U.S. Supreme Court opinions involving public schools. Why these ten cases? Because they delve into some of the most important topics and situations educators face every day, including those at the beginning of this preface. They cover the landscape of both civil rights (discrimination) and civil liberties (individual freedom and privacy). Because they are U.S. Supreme Court cases, they impact the entire nation, not just one state or region. These are cases of historic impact that many people, not only educators, would benefit from knowing. And they’re just plain interesting: They involve real problems of real people who are raising legal and policy issues thorny and weighty enough to have reached the highest court in the land. To read them is to take a mini-course in the history of education in our nation.

The foregoing cases illuminate these principles and outcomes for the educator. You may read them purely for your personal edification, but chances are you’ll also be drawn to reflect on what they mean for your teaching practice or your school. How can they help you address the needs of a particular student? What civic lessons do they teach? What values do they impart?

Reading these ten cases certainly won’t address every situation educators encounter. Nor does it count as legal advice. But it will provide insights into how educators may act appropriately, support students who are at risk or face unique challenges or needs, and perhaps even elevate the discussion, teaching, and practice of equity and justice at school.

For each case, I provide a summary of the judicial opinion; some interesting history or perspective about someone involved in the case; a brief discussion of issues and legal concepts the case raises for educators; a sense of how the case impacts schools today, including more recent legal developments; tips or tales from educators and other people in the classroom or the community; and a short list of resources to further your knowledge about the case or the topics covered in it.

Samples

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