School Law

The role of religion and prayer in schools has always been controversial, and teachers are advised to neither encourage nor discourage religious observances.  As a teacher, what religious celebrations or practices might you encounter in your classroom?  How would you respond to these issues while maintaining your neutrality?

Religion and prayer in schools has always been controversial.   One fact that I find quite interesting is that “separation of church and state” never appears in the Constitution.  In fact, the Constitution was totally silent on the subject of religion.  The relationship between church and state as we know today was primarily the responsibility of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom Act in 1777, introduced into the House of Delegates in 1779, reintroduced in 1785, and finally adopted by the full General Assembly on January 16, 1786.  This was one of the most eloquent statements of religious freedom ever written, in which he coined the statement “separation of church and state”.  The statute influenced both the drafting of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the United States Supreme Court’s understanding of religious freedom.

“Almost immediately upon its adoption, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom became a bellwether for religious liberty. Throughout the latter part of the eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, it was cited as the true measure of religious freedom and relied upon extensively in state constitutional and legislative debates, particularly when church-state relations were at issue.” (Ragosta, 2012)  In 1846, Jefferson used the Act to restrict a teacher from teaching religion at the University of Virginia.  Moreover, the slogan “separation of church and state” has landed its popularity through landmark cases, such as Reynolds v. United States and Emerson v. Board of Education, protecting the rights of all religious affiliates and restricting the church from enforcing or influencing their own rules over the people.  You see, Jefferson was a believer that the republic was founded on inalienable rights of the people to practice their own religion.  Many Conservatists protest that Jefferson’s intention was not to limit the practice of religion in public, but rather to limit the federal government’s hand on religious issues.  However, keeping in mind the words of the pledge of allegiance “one nation under God” and “In God We Trust” printed on money, it is difficult for me to believe that our founding fathers believed “separation of church in state” is the intended interpretation as known today.

I grew up in a religious home and have always been aware or familiar of how religious observances are considered offensive to other people who did not share my same views.    However, I was really quite surprised one day in my child’s classroom that there was a girl who did not participate in the salute of the American flag.  At first, I felt very offended by her lack of patriotism. Especially with the most recent terrorists attacks, like 9-11, the first thing that comes to my mind is why would people not love our country?  Why wouldn’t you want to say the pledge of allegiance?  The pledge is a symbol of the freedom our great country was founded upon.  Americans are taught that from day 1, and any act against that belief raises concerns.  Since then, I have been quite critical to this stance and I have wandered what I would do as a teacher in this situation.  Of course my daughter’s teacher had to explain to me that it is not required, by law, those individuals who decide not to participate in saluting the American flag take advantage of the “free exercise” clause in the 1st Amendment.   I do not know why I thought saying the pledge of allegiance was a law, but it had always been expectation of mine.  Second of all, it raised concerns I had for that child.  Was it the parents who requested the child to not participate?  How was the child being treated at school for not participating?  Never the less, I have never done any research on my own related to participation in the salute to the American flag, but my reaction was so stereotypical that I assumed this child was a foreigner.  Now I realize that my limited knowledge of one’s religious beliefs caused me to have such intolerance of this student’s choice.   Moreover, I am led to believe many Americans are just as ignorant as I am when it comes to saying the pledge of the USA.

 

In a documented court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) the question arose, Should students be required to participate in the salute to the flag?”  Jehovah Witness students and parents were facing harsh penalties (expulsion, fees, jail time) because of their refusal to participate in an act they considered went against their religious beliefs.  In this case the court decided there was no clear and present danger of their action, and in a democracy students have a right to chose.  To me this is very different than what I have always believed.

 

I have first hand experience with these topics because I was a student who did not participate in school activities that offended my family’s Christian beliefs and values.  My first experience was when my parents did not allow me to participate in the Halloween events in my public school.  My parents taught me that Halloween was “demonic”, not of God.  However, I did not see it that way at the time and I felt my friends did not think so either.  All I saw was my friends dancing around the gym in their fun costumes getting candy.  As I grew older, I did realize that other children have different religious beliefs about holidays my family did celebrate, like Christmas and Easter.  In a multi-cultural classroom, teachers have a duty to teach about people’s cultural differences.  I believe ignorance does not promote tolerance of one another’s religious beliefs and/or family heritage. We become less offended by their actions once people understand the reasons why people act the way they do.  We are confronted with these types of situations often in society, and our children need to learn how to deal with not only tolerance of other’s beliefs and actions, but to learn how to stand up for the things they believe in.  This characteristic of society is what holds America apart from any other nation in the world. Because teachers play such an instrumental role in children’s lives outside of their nested homes, teachers have the responsibility for setting this example, and teaching the children how to react to situations that go against their beliefs.

 

Another topic that I believe as a teacher I would encounter in my classroom is teaching scientific evolution theories.  In the public school I attended I was very confused as a students because of my religious background.  I would come home often questioning my parents as to why I was being taught this as opposed to our belief in Creation.  My parents were able to help me guard my beliefs during this time.  I further went on to a Christian school where I was taught about Creation.  However, at the Christian school I was taught both opposing views- Creation and evolution.  This prepared me for the future by giving me insight as to what others believed and the reason for my own beliefs in the world’s existence; unlike at the public school where I was taught about evolution only.  When I went to college, I actually thought I would have to put my religious guard up again and engage in the material for what it was and soon it would be over and forgotten.  However, I appreciated the way my professor brought Creation into his classroom.  He did not spend a whole class period, neither was it part of his curriculum.  He only acted on his right to free speech by stating one question, “Where did ‘it’ come from?”  As a scientist, never in his life was anyone able to explain where the components of the “bang” came from.  It is a simple fact that he stated if denied and it not true then society has lost nothing, but if (Creation) is true, we have lost an eternity.  I feel if people that believe in Creation have to be tolerant of evolution theories then tolerance needs to go both ways.

 

When teaching evolution, a state cannot require that the biblical version of evolution (Creation) be taught.  Cannot require? Does this mean teachers have the “option” to teach Creation? What the courts did decide is that religion can be taught through literature or history lessons.  As Dr. Huffman suggested that many wars have been fought over religious reasons.  Moreover, the students could study how religions evolved throughout history.  Unfortunately, I believe a lot of times teachers are scared to elaborate more on religious topics because it has the tendency to become very controversial.  However, I see more and more of the school administration not promoting but allowing the students to facilitate their own religious conversations.

 

References:

Huffman, J. (2013). School Law [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://canvas.umw.edu/courses/799079/files/26452899/download

Holmes, David. The faiths of the founding fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Mapp, Alf. Faiths of our fathers: what our founding fathers really believed.

Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Ragosta, J. Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786). (2012, August 30). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Virginia_Statute_for_Establishing_Religious_Freedom_1786.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If offered a teaching position in a year round school would you accept?

If offered a teaching position in a year around school I would accept on one condition. First, I would have to make sure that the school’s schedule I would be working at matched my own children’s schedule.  That is the main reason why I decided to become a teacher, so I could be with my children when they are home. Other than that one issue I have, I would most definitely accept.  This is mainly due to the fact that I am pursuing a job in Special Education and the children I will be teaching suffer from long breaks.  Continuity of instruction is the best thing that can happen for children with disabilities.  I believe a 45/15 plan would work best.  Three weeks is the longest I believe a child with disabilities should go with out instruction (if that).  Moreover, the breaks of instruction in the other alternative schedules are too long.

I believe year around school would benefit the school budget  by eliminating the extra schooling the children need during the summer.  It is not feasible to send every child to summer school.  Year around school would offer an alternative to this shortcoming.

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Budget Exercise

Dear School Board,

Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak with our community members regarding the State’s budget cuts on public schools.  Let me reassure you, that I have listened to everyone’s concerns, and I have taken each into consideration when designing this year’s budget proposal. Moreover, I have requested the Budget Advisory Committee to create a set of recommendations based on staff’s preliminary list of budget reductions. The Budget Advisory Committee is made of an equal amount of staff personnel, union representatives, and community members.  After reviewing the committee’s recommendations, I have created a final budget proposal to be presented to the School Board.

These cuts come to no surprise, but the effects are still devastating to our hard, working teachers and staff.  Not only are teachers afraid of losing their jobs, but also health care premiums have increased due to the districts inability to increase health care contributions.  As a result, our students will feel the ripple effects of a cut budget.  I will say, that my intention when approaching this matter is to keep individuals working.

We need to ensure our students are receiving a quality education.  In doing so, our school district offers a competitive salary and benefits in order to retain quality teachers.  Prior to 2010, teachers and staff in our school district had not received a pay raise in over five years.  Our school district lost many quality teachers to our neighboring district.  However, as part of our recent school improvement plan, teachers received a 5% pay raise.  The proof is right in front of us, and we cannot deny the benefits of retaining quality teachers.  Our students are engaged in classroom learning, increased performance on standardized testing, and graduation rates have increased over the past two years.  In light of NCLB, we need quality teachers that are going to ensure our students are successful.  In order to protect our teachers and staff, I propose no reductions for all teachers and staff.  Furthermore, I propose minimal reduction in teacher services in order to promote professional development.

I would like to address the concerns that may arise from the reductions that are listed under teacher and staff.  First, I am proposing a restructuring of current part-time employees and teacher instructional aids to more efficiently meet the needs of individual schools.  Next, I propose to reduce if not eliminate overtime budgets.  Last, I propose eliminating vacant positions at the district level. In addition, the summer workweek can be reduced to four days a week 10 hours a day in order to meet budget requirements.

I am proposing reduction in schools’ learning resources to avoid cutting personnel. However, I have backed up my proposals with recommendations to offset any deficits.  First, I propose a reduction in books and journal/periodicals, because these resources are made available via Internet and local libraries.   Next, I propose a reduction in textbooks, but recommend textbooks be made more available to students online.  Next, I propose a reduction in fieldtrips, and recommend schools commission their parent-base (PTO) or require children to pay to participate.  However, a small budget remains for students on reduced and free lunches.

Finally, I believe a student’s involvement in school activities is a prelude to them developing into well-rounded individuals, and it is important that we promote healthy lifestyles.  In effort to reduce the athletic budget, I propose schools charge athletic fees to support deficits in the athletic budget. Moreover, I chose not to reduce activity bus funds due to rising gas prices and essential to student participation.  I propose a reduction in after-school and summer alternative student services, because I believe reorganization of staff and recruitment of volunteers will prove to be sufficient.  Furthermore, staff can be offered an incentive to dedicate hours to the program(s).  In addition, I recommend fees to be set for Adult classes to offset any deficits to support student services.

I cannot express how important it is to have your support in this matter.  I have included a copy of my budget proposals.  I welcome anyone’s comments and I am willing to listen and consider any of your questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Kelly Jenkins

 

Points

20% cut

Protect instructional staff
Avoid layoffs of core content teachers*

10

Avoid layoffs of special subject teachers**

10

Avoid cuts to health benefits

6

Protect Staff
Teacher instructional aides

5

1
Full-time office staff

5

.5
Part-time employees

3

1
Limit reductions to the library
Staff

3

Books

5

2.5
Periodicals/Journals

4

4
Protect Building Services
Custodial staff

3

Building repair and maintenance

4

1
Protect Learning Resources
Academic technology

5

Textbook adoption

5

3
Teacher Instructional Budget***

5

Field trips

5

3
Protect Faculty Services
Employee tuition reimbursement

4

.5
Staff development for teachers

5

1
Protect Student Services
Athletic/recreation programs

5

1
Student activity bus

2

Parent Resource Center

2

.25
Positive behavior support

2

.25
Preschool special education

3

Summer school

4

1
After-school programs

5

2

TOTAL

110

88

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Philosophies in School Setting

Here is a link to my voice thread comments for the task for Module 3. I chose to respond to the school challenges while identifying the different philosophies that helped me to make my decision.

Philosophies in School Setting

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What was the common school movement and for whom was it intended?

The common school movement began after America won their independence from Britain.  An idea first thought of by Thomas Jefferson.  He believed that the survival of America’s democracy depended on the education of all citizens, not just the privileged.   Jefferson made this claim by stating that in a democracy people needed to vote and choose their leaders, which meant everyone should know how to read and write.  In 1778, Jefferson drafted a proposal to present to the General Assembly.  The proposal guaranteed three years of education for all children, excluding slaves.  In addition, only a select few would advance to college, but this did not pertain to girls.  Jefferson’s ideas were thought to be too radical, so his proposal was rejected three times.  The leaders of the General Assembly saw no need for a farmer to go to college, for without food the colony could not survive.  Settlers were scared of the taxes it would impose on them and how much control the state would have on something so local.

By the 1830’s and into 1840’s, Jefferson’s idea of a free, public education was beginning to gain popularity; due to the work of a man named Horace Mann.  As a leader of the Whig political movement in the Massachusetts’ State Senate, Mann believed in the idea that an individual’s destiny should not be determined by the family they were born into. Mann became the Secretary of Education, and he is known for the written accounts of the trips he made on horseback to a thousand schools across the state.  Mann witnessed the inequality among the schools, so he rode to town meetings promoting common schools.  These common schools would teach a common curriculum that would give each student, rich or poor, an equal chance to learn- a school where “Americans were made”.  Common schools would be free, provide the highest quality of education, and would be 100% funded by tax dollars; he recommended the need for chairs with backs, blackboards, and standardized texts for all schools. Although Mann’s beliefs for a common school were first rejected, his audience began to grow after he released reports of the inequality of schools across the state.  Thus, Americans began to see an equal education as part of their rights as a democracy.

Salinas, E. (Producer) (2012). The Story of American Public Education: The Common School 1770-1890 [Web]. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/19436731

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My goals as a future teacher:

I often evaluate where I am and where I want to be in life.  Setting goals for myself has helped me stay motivated and focused.  I always set one big goal for myself. Such as, “I want to teach children with Autism”.  Then, I go down the list of how I can make that happen.  Such as, “Enroll in an Education program”, “Pass the Praxis”, “Find a teaching job”.  It’s apparent that it takes effort to complete each goal, but every step brings me closer and closer to what I desire to be.

Once I have accomplished my final step to becoming a teacher, my future goal as a teacher, would be to become a “good” teacher.  I believe making a difference in the life of a child is at the heart of every teacher.  In order for me to do that I have created a list of goals to help me stay focused throughout my entire teaching career. At some point, I may decide to move outside of the classroom into a position that will allow me to serve as a consultant or specialist for the school system or work in a clinic.  Never the less, I will still be a teacher.

  1. To create an environment that is conducive to learning that engages individual students, and gets them excited about learning.
  2. To accommodate students according to their individual needs.
  3. To stay connected with the parents of my students by informing them of what is going on in class and keeping them up to date so they can help their children as well.
  4. To stay current with best practices and current events of my profession.
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Orientation Blog – Do You Believe in Me?

I first had to get over the fact that a typical, school aged boy was up in front of 20,000 people doing something I never believed I could even do.  He presented himself calm and collected and then shouted out the words “Do you believe in me?”.  My thoughts were, “Wow, he knew exactly how I was feeling.”  Did I really believe in him at that point?  I wanted to, but I for sure thought he would get at least a little nervous or forget his words, but he didn’t.  Dalton’s message was powerful in a sense that it could change one’s whole perspective of one’s self and of others.

I want to believe that every one will succeed, but success is not the same for everyone.  As a special educator, I may not teach college-ready skills to my students, but I will teach them to be successful in life.  It may be as simple as ordering a hamburger at McDonald’s or knowing which public restroom to use that’s appropriate for their gender, these and more are freedoms that the everyday person takes for granted.  It’s my hope that individuals with disabilities are given the same opportunities as other children to succeed and my hope for a bright future runs parallel to my belief that every person can succeed if given the opportunity to learn how.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKm3oFCPKJ0

 

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