Legal Issues Impacting Principals

Guest post by David S. Ellena, principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA

During the session on “Legal Issues that Will Impact Principals,” Dr. Robert S. McCord touched on several major issues that are working their way through the courts. Here is a summary of some of the major points he discussed:

  • High Stakes Assessment
    • What will be litigated?
    • Has my teaching job changed will be a major factor in the courts. This could be the foundation for some major litigation regarding high stakes testing and teacher evaluation.
    • Are test results valid?
    • One significant case now being litigated is Cook v. Bennett, refiled as Cook v.Stewart in Florida. It deals with:
      • Are test scores being released under teacher names public records or personnel material?
      • Could be released to public before teachers are informed.
    • Teacher tenure rules are also being challenged in California courts
      • Based on student access to high quality education
  • Trigger Laws
    • Do triggers really give parents a choice?
    • Do they resegregrate schools?
    • Do poor students get short changed due to lack of quality teaching?
  • Intellectual property
    • More creativity by teachers in creating resources creates question of who owns the property.
    • Publishers who are seeing declining sales are watching for copyright infringements.
    • Teachers using copyrighted material in creating other resources.
    • Tort claims will increase as well.
  • Student Discipline
    • What is the meaning of duty? Conversation to have with teachers and staff
    • Have a discussion with admin team about discipline each year. Bring in the district lawyer to discuss issues and provide guidance.
  • Bullying and Harassment
    • Does it alter the students access to free and appropriate education, especially for special education students?
    • Teachers bullying students by actions in the classroom. Think about teachers who use “forceful” tone or language.
    • Zero tolerance issues will continue to be litigated, based mostly on poor judgment by administrators and teachers.
  • Counselor’s Role
    • Liability claims on misadvising student athletes in course work needed for NCAA compliance.
    • Failure to inform students of the financial liability for debt from student loans.
  • First Amendment and School Authority
    • Disciplining a student for off-campus behaviors
    • Yes, if there is an identifiable threat of violence that meets the requirements of Tinker.
    • Tinker did not address off campus behavior, which could make it vulnerable.

David S. Ellena is the principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA. He has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.

1 Comment

  • I have witnessed an inordinate amount of talking during class time in our middle school. I had taught there for a couple of years and left b/c of it. I sent my eldest daughter to a private school b/c of it. I no longer have the funds to send my 2nd daughter, however she complains of the talking in her classes as well. What can one do if this is both a cultural and systemic problem? Our principal is working on his Doctorate, and I don’t think has the time to truly discipline the kids.

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