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Four Cases for Educators to Watch in the New U.S. Supreme Court Term

In anticipation of the new U.S. Supreme Court term that opens on Monday, I had a story in Education Week last week about the dearth of cases involving school districts the court has heard over the last five years.

(And by dearth I mean zero. The story, "After Decades of Action, Supreme Court Cools on School Cases," and the accompanying chart show that there have been no cases decided by the justices with a school district or local school officials as parties over those five years, compared with an average of about 11 public school cases every five years going back to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.)

Still, there remain other types of cases affecting education, and the court's new term includes these cases to watch:

• Ohio v. Clark (Case No. 13-1352)—Just last week, the justices added to their docket a case involving laws which require teachers, medical professionals, and others to report suspected child abuse to authorities. A key issue in the case is whether such laws turn teachers and other mandatory reporters into agents of law enforcement when prosecutors seek to use statements made by children to them. It will be argued in January or February.

• Elonis v. United States (No. 13-983)—The justices will consider threats made on social media as they take up the case of a Pennsylvania man convicted of a federal crime for putting threats and rants on Facebook, including rap music-style musings about shooting up a school. The case likely holds implications for how school administrators and police deal with student threats on social media. It will be argued Dec. 1.

• Young v. United Parcel Service Inc. (No. 12-1226)—This case examines alleged pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, as a pregnant UPS worker was denied a disability accommodation that the company routinely provides to non-pregnant employees with work limitations. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the worker's side, saying they back a broad reading of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Pregnant women were once routinely forced from their jobs in teaching until the Supreme Court, in the 1974 decision in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, struck down a district's mandatory maternity leave rule. The case will be argued Dec. 3.

• Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association (No. 13-1041)—An underlying dispute about whether mortgage loan officers are entitled to overtime pay under the federal fair-labor standards law may hold implications for policy decisions of the U.S. Department of Education. The case asks whether federal agencies must go through full notice and comment rulemaking procedures when it changes the interpretations of one of its own rules. Some critics say the Education Department has made significant changes to federal regulations by issuing new interpretations of its own rules. The case is set for argument on Dec. 1.

The court will continue through January to add cases to its docket to be heard in the new term.

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