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Justices Decline Review of Pledge, Other School Cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied review of several appeals involving public education, including cases about the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, T-shirts bearing Confederate symbols, peer sexual harassment, and special education.

The cases were among several hundred denied by the justices in orders issued on the first formal day of the 2009-10 term of the court. Several of the denials came in cases dealing with hot-button social issues, which I previewed here last month.

The denials of review of the following cases all came without comment by the justices and are not rulings on the merits of the appeals. Here are the education cases denied review on Oct. 5:

Frazier v. Smith (Case No. 08-1351)
In one of the most prominent, the justices declined to hear a challenge to a Florida law that requires students to have parental permission to refuse to participate in daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, held last year that the law was meant to vindicate parents' rights to control the upbringing of their children, not students' rights. The appeals panel struck down a provision requiring students to stand even if they have permission to not recite the pledge, but it upheld the parental-permission requirement.

The law was challenged by Cameron Frazier, who as a high school student in 2005 was rebuked at his school for refusing to stand or recite the pledge.

Barr v. LaFon (No. 08-1325)
Also denied was an appeal on behalf of three Tennessee students who challenged their school district's prohibition of displays of the Confederate flag.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled last year in favor of the Blount County, Tenn., school district and administrators in a challenge to the prohibition by students who say they wanted to express their Southern heritage by wearing clothing depicting the Confederate flag. The appeals court noted that school officials were responding to several racial incidents in enacting the ban.

Hudson Area Schools v. Patterson (No. 09-143)
The justices refused to hear the appeal of a Michigan school district that faces potential liability under federal law for its response to the sexual harassment of a student by his peers.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, held early this year that the suit filed by the parents of the harassed student should go to trial. The parents' suit alleges that the Hudson Area Schools in Michigan failed to adequately respond to a pattern in which students harassed the boy almost daily with taunts such as "queer" and "faggot."

The school district claimed in court papers that it did take action in response to the harassment, and it urged the justices to review the lower court's denial of summary judgment.

L.M. v. Capistrano Unified School District (No. 08-1414)
The justices declined an appeal stemming from two California parents' challenge to a school district policy that limited the parents' educational expert to only 20 minutes observation of the district's proposed school placement for their autistic son. The parents contended the limit violated their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but they lost in a lower court.

1 Comment

I am not surprised that the Supreme Court declined to hear "L.M. v. Capistrano Unified School District" because the question presented sounds trivial and irrelevant to education.

However, there is a deeper question behind the surface. The case "Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy" (which decided that families, even winning, cannot recover expert witness fees) gives school districts a never-fail formula -- just use whatever means they have to make families' expert witnesses extremely expensive, so that even a family wins some reimbursement, it is not enough to cover the expert witness fees. Any sensible family would probably back away from such a no-win law suit.

I am not saying the school district in question is intentionally using such a tactic (effectively it is), but to other schools that are facing law suits, if there is a winning formula like this, why not use it?

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