Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 12/In the News

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Ethics and Law of Contemporary Schools in the Media

By: Stephanie Craig

Learning Targets

• The reader will be able to list at least two current issues in the Media dealing with the ethics and law of educational institutions.

• The reader will be able to describe the main student rights being infringed upon according to recent issues in the media.


Ethics and law in the public school domain often carries a negative view in today’s media. The news, in recent years, focuses more on the denial of students' rights than any other legal issue that public schools face. Increasing violence in contemporary schools is a serious problem, but one that the media often only covers after an incident has occurred. While a great amount of attention is given to a major violent act in public school, the media also focuses on the negative aspects of schools’ prevention programs. Options like Zero Tolerance Polices, which are blanket rules for serious offenses that do not consider individualized circumstances and almost always end in expulsion, are viewed as negative because they deny a student’s constitutional right of due process.

“While the due process rights afforded students in disciplinary proceedings do not have to mimic the judicial model, they must be adequate to ensure the fundamental purposes of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments--a fair hearing before an impartial decision maker and perhaps the presence of an attorney.” (La Roche, 2005)

Other significant issues in the current media include: a teacher’s code of ethics, teacher-student relationships, and censorship versus free speech, the denial of first amendment rights.

First Amendment Rights of Students


The above link is to a story released by the Student Press Law Center on June 3, 2009. This article inspects a speech that Erica Corder gave at her high school graduation in Colorado. As valedictorian, Corder was asked to give a speech at her graduation, which is customary for most public high schools. Since graduation is a school sponsored event, the Principal Mark Brewer reviewed Corder’s speech before it was to be given. Brewer approved Corder’s speech, but on the day of graduation Corder veered from her reviewed speech. Instead of reading the prewritten speech, Corder included a statement, which “asked the crowd to learn more about Jesus Christ”(Stewart, 2009).

School Officials felt Corder's statements may have offended the audience members, therefore ordered her to make a public apology before she was given her diploma. In response, Corder sued the school for infringement of her first amendment right to freedom of speech. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Corder, stating that the school was in not in the wrong to force her to apologize. The accusation of infringement of freedom of speech was circumvented by the court emphasizing that Corder’s veer from the pre-approved speech was the issue not necessarily the religious material.


The above link is to an article posted by FOX News on April 1, 2008, and written by Todd Richmond, a member of the associated press. In this story, a student in Wisconsin sues his high school for infringing not only on his freedom of expression but also his religious freedom. This student received a zero in art class for an assignment in which he would not remove religious references. The teacher, Julie Millin, had her art students sign “a policy for the class that prohibited any violence, blood, sexual connotations or religious beliefs in artwork” (Richmond, 2008).

“The lawsuit claims Millin told the boy he had signed away his constitutional rights when he signed the policy at the beginning of the semester.”(Richmond, 2008)

The lawsuit argued that the school had other religious symbols posted, so his use of religion should not be a problem. The student referenced Buddha, and Hindu figurines in a history room where the teacher passionately teaches her students about history of religion. Also, the school allowed “demonic” masks, the medusa, and the grim reaper to be displayed. Overall, the lawsuit argued that the school’s policies were infringing on his freedom of religion.

Teachers’ Ethics: Rights Students Cannot Afford to be Denied


The above link is to an article written by Stephen Hunt, and posted by the Salt Lake Tribune on June 5, 2009. This article is about Jose Bernardo Fanjul, a teacher in Salt Lake City school district, who was acquitted of five counts each of first-degree felony forcible sodomy—punishable by up to life in prison—and five counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse”(Hunt, 2009). The case was dropped due to the character of the 16 year-old female student in question, since she had previously perjured herself to cover up sexual activity with the school’s guidance counselor. However, there was suspicious activity by the teacher who had given the student presents, spent hours on the phone with her, and even tutored her privately at home.

In this case there are three important issues at hand: first off, if the teacher was innocent, he must now face the destruction of his character and career due to these allegations, second, if the teacher was guilty, the school is failing to protect the student's basic right to personal safety, and third, regardless of guilt, where is the ethical line limiting the extent of a student teacher relationships?


The above link is to an article posted by the New York Times on June 4, 2009, which was written by Paul Vitello. This article discusses a bill being proposed by the New York Senate to include public institutions in the expansion of the statute of limitations. This means that private and public institutions would have the same legal consequences should abuse occur or be alleged. This article is a current look at what actions the government is starting to take to stop child abuse in schools.

“Thus, a child abused by a teacher in a public school would have 90 days after turning 18 to file a claim. By contrast, under current law, a victim of abuse at a private or religious school can file a civil claim within five years after turning 18.” (Vitello, 2009)

One worry is that the extended limitations will mean a loss in evidence, and witnesses making it harder for a teacher to prove their innocence. Shouldn’t the government be working to protect the rights of teachers as well as students in alleged cases of abuse?


As shown in the media articles above, much is being done to defend and maximize the rights of students in public schools. However, little is being done to address the safety and rights of our teachers. There are increasing numbers of lawsuits against teachers for even patting a student on the shoulder. Educational theories urge teachers to take a personal approach, but teachers are being looked at suspiciously for having a private conference with a student.

Test Your Knowledge

1) Which of the following is not a students’ rights that current media claims is being infringed upon:

A. Freedom of Assembly

B. Freedom of Expression

C. Freedom of Religion

D.Freedom of Speech

2) Which of the following amendments does students’ rights not bring into question:

A. 1st

B. 5th

C. 14th

D. 17th

3) If a student is told that he cannot talk or write about his religious views at school, which of his freedoms are not being infringed upon?

A. Freedom of Assembly

B. Freedom of Expression

C. Freedom of Religion

D. Freedom of Speech

4) Jose is a student at a public in the state of New York. After she graduates, she sees a counselor and it comes out that her librarian had sexually abused her. How long does Jose have to report the matter under the current statute of limitations?

A. 4 years after turning 18

B. 5 years after turning 18

C. 90 days after turning 18

D. 100 days after turning 18

(Answers: 1. A, 2. D, 3. A, 4. C)


Hunt, Stephen. (2009). West High teacher acquitted in student sex case. Salt Lake Tribune. 7 June 2009. [5]

La Roche, C. (2005). Student rights associated with disciplinary and academic hearings and sanctions. College Student Journal. Retrieved from 7 June 2009. [6]

Richmond, Todd. (2008). Student Sues Wisconsin School After Getting a Zero for Religious Drawing. FOX News. 7 June 2009. [7]

Stewart, Brian. (2009). Appellate court: School did not violate student's rights by punishing religious speech. Student Press Law Center. 7 June 2009. [8]

Vitello, Paul. (2009). Sex Abuse Bill to Include Public Institutions, Too. New York Times. 7 June 2009. [9]

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