Legal Precedents in Education Rights and Responsibilities

Critical Concepts

Student rights and responsibilities :

  • Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), students have the right to receive an education whether in a public setting, a private setting, or to be educated at home.
  • The Supreme Court’s Tinker decision protects students’ political speech (“which lies at the heart of the First Amendment”) but specifically excluded clothing.
  • The Sheehan v. St. Peters Catholic School, an eighth-grade Catholic school student, Margaret Sheehan, was injured during morning recess. Benefits to the student are that students should feel safe in their learning environment.

Teacher professional rights and responsibilities: teachers have a commitment to students and to their professional peers.

  • Norwalk Teachers’ Association v. Board of Education (1951) - validated the right of the teachers’ union to organize a labor union and to engage in collective bargaining but prohibited it from striking. It also allowed boards of education to enter into agreements submitting disputes to binding arbitration.
  • The ruling of a federal court in a 2001 case involving Ella Downing, a Connecticut high school teacher, Downing, not permitted to wear her Jesus T-shirt would have given the impression that the school endorses religion.
  • Noxubee County Sch. Board. v. Cannon, (1986) - Contracts can be renewed automatically from year to year if: The local school board fails to provide timely notice as to not renew the contract. The intent not to renew the contract of a first or second year teacher in writing.

Teacher personal rights and responsibilities

  • Mudge v. Huxley, A teacher was involved in a relationship with two students who were 18 and graduated. The court ruled that he groomed the students while they were in his care, then took advantage of that relationship.
  • Satterfield v. Board of Education of the Grand Rapids Public Schools, Moral Turpitude can be grounds for removal of a teacher. A teacher embezzled over $10,000 and made restitution. The court ruled his teaching and respect of the parents and staff was tarnished due to his conviction.
  • Melzer v. Board of Education City of New York, Mezler was an active member of the group NAMBLA and was removed from his position as a teacher due to conflicts with his personal choices. It caused a negative reaction with parents and students and also caused a severe disruption of school life.

Teacher Actions

  1. Wisconsin v. Yoder, Students have the right to be educated at home or in a school setting, its my job as an educator to support that choice and respect the families choice. As a teacher I can also provide resources or opportunities for students to enhance their education with extra-curricular activities or tutoring outside of school hours, this can be for any student home schooled or otherwise.
  2. Tinker v. Supreme Court, students have a right to a certain extent to express themselves with their clothing, when the clothing interferes with their education its my duty as the teacher to intervene. Providing special days like crazy hair days, pajama days, etc. can help students to express their individuality. These special days can help them get the "itches out" of the need to make a change in the doldrums of everyday attire.
  3. Sheehan v. St. Peters Catholic School, Its my duty as a teacher to protect children from each other, if and when they are given the chance, they can unknowingly hurt one another. Teachers must provide safety for their students on the playground, in the classroom, on the bus, and walking to and from school. Kids will be kids and need adult guidance at all times.
  4. Norwalk Teachers’ Association v. Board of Education, teachers can unionize and I have a right to join a union. In a union with other teacher's I can become a more effective teacher. When combined with other educators our voice becomes stronger and more opportunities to learn from other educators can benefit students.
  5. Downing v. Board of Education, As a teacher I need to represent a leader without trying to proselytize my students or coworkers. I need to dress appropriately for a professional career and pay close attention to what I wear at all times. As a teacher I am a professional, as a professional students are more likely to respect you. Dressing appropriately for a profession is important even on days where the dress is relaxed. In a public school setting we must keep church and state separate.
  6. Noxubee County Sch. Board. v. Cannon, I have the right to be given a contract in a reasonable amount of time. I need to know when I am employed by a district and when I need time to search for employment elsewhere. Also students prefer consistency, they need to know if a teacher will be there in the school the next year. This can help them have closure. Also, a teacher needs to focus on the students and not her contract. Being concerned about her contract, for the next year, should not control her classroom life.
  7. Mudge v. Huxley, teachers are in a influential position and students are vulnerable to our guidance, as a teacher we need to keep separate relationships outside of school away from our students. There are many situations where teachers have alone or private one on one situations with students. It is our responsibility to maintain a separation of too close of a personal relationship.
  8. Satterfield v. Board of Education, Teachers have a moral obligation to be leaders inside and outside of school. If involved in a moral dilemma it is not the best example for a leader of students. A teacher teaches many things like math, reading, and many other subjects. They also teach them morals and choices. A teacher needs to be a pillar in the community and in the classroom. If they are involved in an embezzlement scheme they cannot be trusted in the classroom.
  9. Melzer v. Board of Education, again this is a reference to moral turpitude. A teacher needs to be an example to their students, someone they can mirror or follow. If a teacher is involved with an organization that raises questions of their moral choices or the depravity of others choices, they should not be in a position of influence over children. If a teacher was made available an opportunity to join a club or association, it is important to understanding all the aspects of that organization. If a teacher heard of the new group "The Ku Klux Klan" and wanted to join and support their daily activities, the teacher needs to know the impact it will have on their teaching career.



Newtons third law is, there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action. This can also be used to explain the impact of the choices of a teacher or influential adult has in the lives of children. Parents trust teachers with their most valuable asset, their children. As teachers we must remember to treat our students as children and also respect their individuality. We need to consider all children and provide an inclusive learning environment.

  • In the case of Mudge v. Huxley, the teacher would not have had the opportunity to create a relationship with the young adults if he did not have the influence over them as their teacher. As an adult and a teacher, we have an obligation to keep a separate life as an adult apart from our students. There are things we do not discuss and situations we do not talk about since they are children. Even after they graduate there still needs to be a professional relationship with them. We should not be using our position as an educator to groom students for our personal desires.
  • In the case of Mezler v. Board of Education, a teacher has the right to join clubs and organizations outside of school that they feel they can support. But when the club has an impact in the lives of others that is not becoming of the leaders we needs as teachers, we as teachers need to draw the line. Teaching students to express their individuality is important but sometimes there are consequences for our choices in life. As a teacher it is important to support a students likes and dislikes and help them find ways to research into their personal preferences.
  • Considering the individuality of students the case of Tinker v. The Supreme Court. All of our students want to be considered as individuals and have an opportunity to express that individuality. However, at the same time we also need to protect students from their own choices whether they like it or not. Shielding them from influences they are not ready for or even ones they do not completely understand is not always easy for a teacher.



Technology in today's society has brought a wealth of information to the classroom. This technology can also make it easy for a teacher to have better or more communication with students and families.

  1. Communication via the internet to help with school can provide opportunities to further a students education where in the past a home set of encyclopedias was all we had. Teachers must take advantage of communication with families through social media, email, or a class web page. In doing this, the teacher must also make sure and protect the privacy and the rights of students and families.
  2. In the Tinker case, students could use technology to research how other schools in different countries dress. Researching this they can learn to appreciate the differences around the world and each persons unique style. Learning from other cultures can help students understand our culture and the choices our schools officials set in place.
  3. The Sheehan case could better protect students by the use of cameras or walkie-talkies. Using these forms of communication to speak with other adults when the teacher may need to take her eyes off the students can help better protect the students. Calling another teacher to assist or having an additional set of eyes on a video recorder can help improve protection for children.
  4. Teachers can benefit from communicating over the internet with other teacher's around the world. Using shared lessons, and instructional ideas with others in a union can help improve the isolation of a teacher in the classroom. Collaboration is essential for teachers to learn and reflect with each other.
  5. The first amendment is a right of every citizen of the United States. As teachers we must not hinder that right, using technology students can find answers to questions they may have about religion. In the classroom teachers can assign computers to research the worlds religions. This research can help students come to their own conclusions about their beliefs.
  6. Email is a much used form of communication and unlike the US mail can instantly send information to teachers and students alike. Teachers can communicate with students through personal communication of email and programs like Google. Sending papers and communicating through the computer can enhance the learning experience in real time.
  7. Social media can be a great tool to communicate with our students but we need to keep all communication visible with the school and families. Having students to create, maintain, and design a classroom page can be a wonderful tool to access and enhance their learning. Assigning students different jobs in design of a class webpage can bring ownership and a family like atmosphere to the classroom.
  8. A teacher can use technology to help students look into future careers in the computer industry. Using time after school or a specified time in the classroom teachers can guide students in using their skills for STEAM, which is Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Learning about building and design of robotics a teacher can help students explore areas that they may not have imagined before.
  9. Learning to create or join a group or organization through the use of the internet is a learning opportunity for students. In the learning process they can design a logo and understand what it means to protect their work, while protecting others work with copyrights.

Student Benefits

Students can benefit from the actions of teachers in many ways. In the cases above there are different benefits for students in each a teacher reaction. Students growth academically, physically, or mentally can be impacted by a teachers choice.

  1. Students can benefit from the choice of where they receive their education. Some can flourish in the classroom but others may not. As a teacher I need to find the most appropriate and helpful ways to guide a student to be the best student they can.
  2. Limiting a student in the way they dress can help them focus more on academics and not on personal appearance. Helping a student to know who they are is important and also helping them express their individuality. But when it gets in the way of their education a teacher needs to help them make the right choice.
  3. Student safety and well being is one of the most important aspects of being a teacher. We are responsible in keeping students safe, since they are not always capable in making the best choices. Keeping their physical bodies safe is a large responsibility but one that every teacher must understand.
  4. Unionizing can help me become a more effective teacher. With that I can further help my students grow academically. With this growth also comes mental growth for my students helping them become more responsible adults and learning to lean on each other for support.
  5. Helping students to use their own minds and cultivating their ideas can help them grow to be better informed adults. Students need a strong leader they can follow and as their teacher I can use my actions to set an example of whom they can model. My personal beliefs can guide my morals and I can show this through the model that I represent to my students.
  6. Making a contract with my students can help them understand how important it is to have an agreement. Working with the student to come up with short term goals and long term goals is a great way to hold the student accountable for their own education.
  7. Teaching students the benefits and dangers of technology can help them grow academically. Technology can be educational but it can also hurt children mentally.
  8. Life skills are a great lesson for students. In teaching students life skills a teacher can use real life situations and students can understand there are consequences for their actions. Teaching accounting skills and good choices with finances, teachers can show life skills to their students.
  9. Organizations and groups are great ways for a student to grow mentally among their peers. Organized sports, chess clubs, and drama are just a few of the clubs that students can be a part of, to help them grow as a person. Joining organizations such as these can build on their academic growth as well. Using multiple parts of their brain to grow in many different ways can help them become well rounded adults.
A teacher effects eternity, he can never tell where influence stops. ~Henry Adams

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