Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Administration/Legal Issues

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What are the legal issues?

In every school system in America there are legal issues that are presented. Each state has there own legal issues that they have as a guideline as to what is right and what is wrong. Also, they have to meet their state standards. There are certain laws that each school in the United States must abide by. Since my fellow classmates and I plan on becoming teachers I plan to focus on the information that will be the most important to us.

Zero Tolerance Policy[edit]

The zero-tolerance policy is a policy that every education system must follow. This term is used to describe misbehavior in the school system. The zero-tolerance is a policy of having no tolerance for transgressions: any infraction of existing laws and regulation, regardless of mistakes, ignorance, or even extenuating circumstances, will be met with full punishment[1]. Examples, of this would be fighting and drugs. A student possessing or getting caught using drugs on school property governed by a zero-tolerance policy could immediately suffer the highest possible consequence for their actions. Many organizations avoid these policies because it binds those in authority to an action, regardless of circumstances. The policy must be written extremely explicitly or it may have negative consequences[2]. The school may not make up rules as they go because it does not inform the students between right and wrong. In some jurisdictions, zero-tolerance policies have come into conflict with freedom of religion rules already in place allowing students to carry, for example, kirpans. Most policies were enacted after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado[3]. This act was put into place to give the students an opportunity to act like adults, but have discipline when necessary. Zero tolerance results in expulsion or suspension irrespective of any legitimate explanation. In many instances it also results in having the student arrested. In April 2003 the American Bar Associated Journal gathered some information about the effects of the zero tolerance policy. Nationwide, statistics gathered by the Justice Policy Institute and the U.S. Department of Education show that crime of all sorts is down at public schools since 1990- some studies say by as much as 30 percent. Less than 1 percent of all violent incidents involving adolescents occur on school grounds. Indeed, a child is three times more likely to be struck by lightening than to be killed violently at school[4]. This policy is important to all members of the education system. It is the basic guidelines that we have to follow in order to know how to take control over a certain situation and what the punishment for that student will be.

No Child Left Behind Act[edit]

The No Child Left Behind Act is an act that is nationwide to help make sure that all students are getting the resources and material they need to be successful in the classroom. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, commonly known as NCLB, is a United States federal law that was passed in the House of Representatives on May 23, 2001 and signed on January 8, 2002, that reauthorized a number of federal programs aiming to improve the performance of U.S. primary and secondary schools by increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools, as well as providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend. It promoted an increased focus on reading and re-authorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965[5]. This act is one of the best things that the government inquired into the school system. The No Child Left Behind act requires that (by the end of the 2006-2007 school year) all teachers be “highly qualified” as defined in the law. A highly qualified teacher is one who has (1) fulfilled the state’s certification and licensing requirements, (2) obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, and (3) demonstrated subject matter expertise. The procedure for demonstrating subject matter knowledge depends on a teacher’s tenure and level of instruction. Elementary teachers must pass a state test demonstrating their subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading/language arts, writing, mathematics and other areas of basic elementary school curricula. Middle and high school teachers must demonstrate a high level of competency in each academic subject area they teach, such demonstration can occur either through passage of a rigorous state academic subject or successful completion of an undergraduate major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate major or an advanced certification or credentialing. These requirements have caused some difficulty in implementation especially for special education teachers and teachers in small rural schools who are often called upon to teach multiple grades and subjects[6]. This act puts pressure on the teacher to make sure they are helping the students and giving them enough help when necessary. During the year the child will be watched and make sure they are getting the proper information. This act requires that the teachers send home progress reports and report cards, so the parents can watch the progress of their children. The progress of all students will be measured annually for math and reading in grades 3-8 and at least once during high school[7]. This act makes sure that each child is educated to the best of their ability.

Americans With Disabilities Act[edit]

The act that helps students with disabilities and special education would be the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George H.W. Bush introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Disability is defined, as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limit’s a major life activity.” The determination of whether any particular condition is considered a disability is made on a case-by-case basis. Certain specific conditions are excluded as disabilities, such as current substance abusers and transsexuality[8]. The ADA is one of the best acts that could have been interpreted into the school system because it allows every individual the same opportunity whether they have a disability or not. These students are not treated equal and are able to go to regular classrooms with other students.


Throughout school many educators have been faced with the issues of religion. They had to face the fact of whether it could be taught in public schools or if the information they were providing their students had anything to do with religious views. It is stated that any school event is not allowed to have anything to do with religion associated with it. In many cases the Lemon Test is used to decide if the subject has religion in it. The Establishment Clause is a clause where the government cannot decide on one particular religion. A major question that is faced is whether or not students should be allowed to prayer during a school functioning. In its most recent consideration of prayer in the public schools, a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that student-led, prayers before football games violated the Establishment Clause. The Ninth Circuit, on two occasions, has found that school districts must necessarily refuse to allow students to deliver sectarian prayers or proselytizing speeches at graduation to avoid violating the Establishment Clause (Epley, B). Another problem that is discussed is the moment of silence. A sharply divided Supreme Court invalidated moments of silence for prayer more than 20 years ago, but the battles over moments of silence continue. The Fourth Circuit upheld a Virginia statute mandating a moment of silence in all classrooms during which “each pupil may, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, mediate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity which does not interfere with, distract, or impede other pupils in the like exercise of individual choice”(Epley, B). It is important to know that in Virginia Public Schools that each student is allowed to exercise freely during the moment of silent.

One of the biggest issues with religion that is being discussed in the school is the subject of Creationism/Intelligent Design. Control of the curriculum has often been a contentious issue, dating to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. The most recent decision involves an attempt by a Pennsylvania school district to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design in high school biology. Intelligent Design is considered a theological argument. The Court concluded that the purpose of including Intelligent Design in the curriculum was to promote religion in public schools and that the policy failed both the Lemon Test and the Endorsement Test (Epley, B). In the United States there is not an official religion, so many parents do not want their children being taught Intelligent Design because some believe it goes against their religion.


The public schools have many policies that a teacher must abide by, but the ones presented here are the most important. We must use these policies when we are an educator to do our best and succeed at our career.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following terms best indicates a situation where a child is found with tobacco in his or her pockets gets a disciplinary action?
A. American with Disabilities Act
B. Zero Tolerance Policy
C. Equal Education
D. No Child Left Behind Act

B. Zero Tolerance Policy

As a result of the zero tolerance policy school violence has gone down ____ percent.
A. 61
B. 44
C. 15
D. 30

D. 30

Which act requires Mrs. Ward to be highly qualified at her job?
A. No Child Left Behind Act
B. Equal Education
C. Zero Tolerance Act
D. Americans with Disabilities Act

A. No Child Left Behind Act

Many parents do not want __________ taught to their children in biology class.
A. The Life Cycle
B. Intelligent Design
C. Habitats
D. Pangaea

B. Intelligent Design

Coach Peterson wants his players to pray before their football game, but these students are not allowed because of the
A. Intelligent Design
B. Athletic Game
C. The Establishment Clause
D. Zero Tolerance Policy

C. The Establishment Clause

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

Why is the Zero Tolerance Policy important to education? What would you do with a student in your classroom that breaks a rule?

One of the most important policies that was contributed to the school systems in the United States is the Zero Tolerance Policy. This policy does not allow students to break rules and regulations without proper discipline. If a student fails to follow certain rules and regulations they will be given full punishment. For example, many schools do not allow the use of alcohol, drugs, or fighting. The student signs the Code of Conduct at the beginning of the school year to say that they will abide by all rules and will not break any of them. Students in my classroom are going to break the rules to a certain degree and as the educator I am going to have to take charge. For example, if two students were to fight in the middle of my classroom I will have to make the decision on what to do with these students. The first thing I would have to do is get these children out of my classroom, so that my other students are not in danger. As the educator it is my responsible to protect each student in my classroom to the best of my ability. After I got these students out of my classroom I would call the principal or security officer to come escort these children to the office. Once the students get into the office they will have to talk to the principal. After the students are done talking I will have to give my version of the story. Once all information is given the principal will make a decision based on what he has been told. The Zero Tolerance Policy gives the principal the right to make decisions based on the information provided. This policy addresses the fact that the school system does not allow fighting. The principal has the choice to give the students in-school suspension, out of school suspension or expel them based on his opinions of how bad the situation is. This policy is important and it will be an issue that many educators will have to face.