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Courting Student Rights
In December of 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding the presidency of the United States. Last fall, the court listened to arguments on student privacy. By this coming summer, they will decide if students in public schools should be randomly tested for drugs.
The two cases will have outcomes affecting all students from elementary to high school. Although the cases both deal with privacy rights, they could not be more different.
One case aims to keep information about students private for their protection. The other case seeks to invade their privacy in order to protect them.
your grades public?
Last November, the court heard Owasso vs. Falvo, a case about student privacy and school policy.
focuses on a common classroom activity of students grading each other's
The case began in a classroom in 1997. Students there regularly graded quizzes and tests of their classmates. Then the students would call out the scores to the teacher to record them.
One of the students was humiliated after scoring a failing 47 percent on a quiz, and having the score announced in front of the class. Mrs. Falvo, the humiliated student's mother, believes the practice of peer grading affects her kids' ability to take tests. They sued the school, asking that the public grading end.
On the other side, the school says peer grading offers students immediate feedback on daily lessons. It saves teachers time, allowing them to concentrate on more important state exams.
The school system pointed out that if there are laws against making grades public, it might not be legal to recognize honor roll students and class valedictorians.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that there is nothing illegal about the paper-swapping practice.
a classmate's work can be as much a part of the assignment as taking
the test itself," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for himself
and seven colleagues. Justice Antonin M. Scalia filed a separate opinion.
More on the Owasso vs. Falvo case...
your school test you for drugs?
Later this year, the court will consider Pottawatomie vs. Earls, another case about student privacy versus school policy. Pottawatomie school district wants to test all students for drugs.
Lindsay Earls, a former student choir member, was tested in 1999. Earls and her family sued, saying the drug tests violated her constitutional right against unreasonable searches.
The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives individuals protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
"I felt they were accusing us and convicting us before they had given us a chance," said Lindsay Earls to local newspapers. "It was horrible. Someone would stand outside the bathroom stall and listen."
Supporters of Pottawatomie policy argue it's necessary to keep schools drug free. They say the policy helps students understand doing drugs while in school has costs.
More on the Pottawatomie vs. Earls case...
How does a case get to the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court is the top and definitive federal court in the country. A case gets to the Supreme Court generally through legal appeals. When the court accepts a case, it's because lower courts (local districts and state) have issued a ruling that one of the parties thinks is unfair, or judges have issued different rulings on the case.
Although it happens occasionally, it is rare for the Supreme Court to hear a case that has not gone through the lower federal court system.
The path the Falvo case took is illustrates of how to get your argument heard in front of the "big nine."
In 1999, the Falvo case was heard in a local Tulsa courthouse, where a district judge dismissed it. The judge ruled the quizzes and mini exams the students graded did not constitute an educational record. Unsatisfied with the dismissal, the angry mother appealed her case to the U.S. Circuit court.
The U.S. Circuit court is like the middleman in the federal court system. It hears appeals and issues rulings on cases that can not be resolved in the lower district courts. In the Falvo case the Circuit ruled the school violated Falvo's son's right to privacy. That decision stopped the practice of peer grading in Oklahoma and five other states.
Unsatisfied with that verdict, the Owasso school district appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The U.S. Court of Appeals is like the vice-president of the federal court system. It hears appeals and issues rulings on cases that the Circuit court could not resolve. Most legal disputes end with their ruling. However, in some cases the parties take the Appeal Court's ruling to the Supreme Court.
In the Falvo case, the Court of Appeals overturned the Circuit court ruling. Today both parties are in front of the Supreme Court for the final answer.
What do you think...
Should a student's grade be public? Should schools eliminate public recognition of student achievement like honor roll and valedictorians?
If the issue is student safety, should schools be allowed to test students for drugs? What do you think?
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