School Law School law encompasses a wide range of topics, from disciplinary issues, such as truants, dropouts, and corporal punishment, to those that raise constitutional concerns, such as school prayer and the teaching of creationism. This section is a combination of federal, Illinois, and constitutional law.
Truancy. In Illinois, any child between 7 and 16 must attend public school, except those that attend private schools, children who are mentally or physically disabled, any child lawfully employed, and children not in school on a particular day for religious reasons. The law says that anyone who is enrolled in public school must be there unless they are absent for one of reasons listed above.
A truant is defined as someone who is required to be in school, but who isn't and doesn't have a valid excuse. A chronic or habitual truant is someone absent for at least 10% of the previous 180 school days. A dropout, on the other hand, is anyone whose name has been removed from the rolls for reasons other than graduation, death, extended illness, or transfer to another school.
No child who has dropped out can be denied enrollment as long as they can graduate before his or her 21st birthday. No child can be denied enrollment in violation of the disabilities laws.
Illinois law requires the clerk or secretary of the school board to supply the school superintendent with a list of all children in their school district, with names and addresses and name of person with control. Schools that have a truancy officer are exempt from the rule. The superintendent must report to the regional superintendent regarding truancy. The regional superintendent gives the names of any truants to a regional truancy officer.
The truant officer then sends notice to the custodial parent or guardian that the child is a truant. If the notice is not complied with, the truant officer can file a complaint with the circuit court or the state's attorney's office. The penalty to the custodian is up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500. If a child is determined to be beyond the control of the guardian, a complaint can be filed in juvenile court. No action can be taken against a child unless support services and other resources have been provided to the child.
Spanking. Illinois is one of at least 27 states that prohibit physical punishment in schools. Illinois also prohibits parents from using "excessive corporal punishment."
Home schooling. Illinois does not have a home schooling statute, but home schools are allowed. The Illinois courts have ruled that home schools are considered valid private schools if the children are taught the branches of education that are taught to children of a corresponding age and grade in public school, and where instruction is in English. The object of the laws of mandatory schooling, one court has said, is that the children be educated, not that they be educated in any manner or place.
Illinois requires 176 days of school, which doesn't apply to private or home schools. The subjects required by law are language arts, biological and physical science, math, social sciences, fine arts, health and physical development, plus honesty, justice, kindness, and moral courage.
To avoid having a truancy action filed against the child, home-schooling parents may want to file a statement of assurance with the local school district. There are no teacher qualifications in Illinois, so home-schooling parents don't have to meet any standards. No standardized tests are required.
School boards. Public education in the United States is directed primarily by the states, but funding comes primarily from county and city taxes. Local property taxes account for an estimated 53% of all school revenues. Some state funding is provided from state income taxes, state sales taxes, the lottery, and the public utility tax.
Local school boards, whose members are elected, run public schools. There are 892 local school boards in Illinois. The local school boards appoint local superintendents, except in Chicago, where the mayor of Chicago appoints the school district superintendent.
Testing. Illinois and Chicago have both developed academic standards for assessing academic progress. The Illinois State Board of Education has developed academic standards in seven subject areas, which are based on goals set forth in the Illinois Goals and Assessment Program. Chicago requires students to take both the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP) and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS).
Illinois outlawed social promotions in 1998. Chicago policy, adopted in 1996, requires students in grades three, six, and eight to attend summer school if they fail to meet certain conditions.
Charter schools. In 1996, Illinois passed a charter schools law, which allowed the creation of 45 charter schools: 15 in Chicago, 15 in the Chicago suburbs, and 15 in the rest of the state. The chartering authority is the local school board. The charter school's governing body must be a non-profit corporation.
Charter schools could be either conversions of existing schools or newly built schools. An existing school can be converted to a charter school only if a majority of parents, teachers, and local school council approve the change. Preferences are given for those who show a high level of community support.
Tenure. Tenure is defined as a status granted after a trial period to a teacher that gives protection from summary dismissal. It was first enacted in the U.S. in the early 1900s, with Illinois one of the first to enact it. Tenure has become somewhat controversial, and there are those who want it eliminated. Its detractors argue that it has become the equivalent of a guaranteed lifetime job, shielding bad teachers from justified removal. Its supporters argue, on the other hand, that tenure still protects academic freedom, saving educators from archaic and overbearing administrators. They contend that tenure isn't a lifetime job, it's a continuing contract.
Title IX. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in any federally funded education program. It was thought to be necessary because of the huge funding discrepancies for men and women, particularly in athletics. In 1973, for example, two years after the law was passed, 50,000 men were on athletic scholarship, while fewer than 50 women were.
In terms of athletic discrimination against women, the law compares the treatment of men and women in three areas to determine if discrimination is occurring: scholarships, athletic facilities, and "other," which refers to such things as supplies, coaching, and practice time. Compliance is determined on a program basis, not on a sport-by-sport basis.
The law has played a significant role in driving up participation rates by girls and women in athletics. In 1971, 300,000 girls participated in high school sports; 25 years later it was 2.4 million.
While athletic discrepancies garnered most of the publicity, the law targets all federal funded education programs, not just athletics. In fact, the law's supporters argue that it has had a significant impact on college graduation rates among women. Prior to the law, 18% of women and 26% of men were completing four-year degrees; by the late 1990s, 27% of both men and women were completing degrees.
Constitutional questions. Separation of church and state issues often arise in the school setting. Among the issues that have come up around the country are posting the 10 commandments, teaching the bible as history, leading students in school prayer, teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution, forcing schools to close for Good Friday, and providing state funds, usually called vouchers, to attend religious schools.
The general rule in Illinois and elsewhere is that private prayers are allowed in public schools, but public prayers are not, including student-led public prayers. Overtly religious symbols, like the 10 commandments, are not allowed.
Illinois avoids any mention of evolution in its state standards. It does not offer vouchers, but it does provide tax deductions or credits to attend private schools, and it has available a $12 million subsidy for books and other equipment for religious schools. Good Friday is a legal holiday in Illinois.
Religion isn't the only constitutional issue in schools. Unreasonable search and seizure issues have been raised. The general rule for searching school lockers has been that such searches are legal on the ground that the locker is the joint property of the student and the school. The courts over recent years have begun cracking down on schools' freedom to search lockers where the student has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Generally, schools now need to have a school policy that gives students notice that their lockers can be searched.
Student searches are allowed in Illinois when it's in the "best educational interests of all the students." Searches that are done for malicious or discriminatory reasons are never allowed.
Searches of a student's car are a little different because the school has no ownership interest in the car. Nevertheless, car searches can be undertaken, if the search is reasonable under the circumstances. Schools should also have car search policies that are provided to students.
Searches by metal detector raise constitutional concerns because the search is not related to suspicions the school has about the person searched. Although little law exists in this area, the trend is probably to allow the searches, on the ground that the search is not part of a criminal investigation.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of schools to administer drug tests to students, although the school must follow certain guidelines, such as there being prior evidence of drug use and a drug problem. The rule prior to the decision had been that such tests violated a student's right to privacy.
Courts have also upheld the right of legislatures to restrict certain activities, such as tobacco advertising, within a certain distance from school grounds. The courts have rejected tobacco sellers' arguments that the restriction violates their right to free speech.