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Case Study Hubbard V[1]. Buffalo Isd
 

Case Study Hubbard V[1]. Buffalo Isd

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Public School Law - Dr. William Allan Kritsonis

Public School Law - Dr. William Allan Kritsonis

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    Case Study Hubbard V[1]. Buffalo Isd Case Study Hubbard V[1]. Buffalo Isd Document Transcript

    • Bechtold, Bickham, & Singh Prairie View A&M University PUBLIC SCHOOL LAW ADMN 5023 William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Professor School District’s Authority in Academic Matters Submitted by Rebecca Bechtold, Michele Bickham, and Soul Singh June 22, 2009 1
    • Bechtold, Bickham, & Singh School District’s Authority in Academic Matters INTRODUCTION Public school districts often find themselves in the middle of controversy when issues of religion arise. Certain segments of the population will protest if there is even a mention of religion or religious themes in a school. Others push to "put God back into the schools" and bring back school prayer. There is not a consensus on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution’s two clauses regarding church and state, both contained in the First Amendment: The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. School districts and other public entities must walk that fine line between violating the Establishment Clause, by endorsing a particular religion or favoring religion in general, and violating the Free Exercise Clause by unreasonably inhibiting a person’s ability to practice his or her religious beliefs. In early 1998, the Buffalo Independent School District, an East Texas school district with around 800 students, became embroiled in a dispute which would soon become a federal lawsuit. This report will look at school district’s authority for placement and acceptance of credits from non-accredited religious institutions. CASE ONE Federal District Court Western District of Texas, Waco Division Sarah HUBBARD, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants v. BUFFALO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee LITIGANTS Plaintiffs-Appellants: Sarah Hubbard, et. al Defendant-Appellee: BUFFALO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT BACKGROUND In February of 1998, parents John and Linda Hubbard petitioned the school board of Buffalo I.S.D. (B.I.S.D.) to consider awarding academic credit for work completed in a private, non-accredited school by their daughter, Sarah. The Hubbards had earlier consulted with a Florida law firm associated with the Christian Law Association, an advocacy group. Sarah Hubbard had attended B.I.S.D. from kindergarten through the seventh grade. She then transferred to the Upper Room Christian Academy, a non- accredited private school run by the Upper Room Church in Buffalo. 2
    • Bechtold, Bickham, & Singh The Upper Room Christian Academy does not require its teachers to be certified or have college degrees, and has a very different system of instruction and assessment than that used by B.I.S.D. After three and one-half years at the Upper Room Christian Academy, Sarah transferred to Buffalo High School in B.I.S.D., and she and her parents learned that, pursuant to B.I.S.D. policy, Sarah would be required to take proficiency tests to receive credit for courses completed at the non-accredited school. Had Sarah transferred from an accredited public or private school, her credits would have been accepted without any requirement of testing or other validation. A case such as this could only arise with a high school student, since credit toward graduation is not generally awarded before the ninth grade. Students transferring from non-accredited schools below the ninth grade may be tested to determine placement, but credit would not be an issue. The parents appealed the Superintendent’s decision denying Sarah credits to the Board, and the Board passed a motion instructing the Superintendent to work with the parents to form a plan which would allow Sarah to receive the maximum number of credits under B.I.S.D. policy. The Board did not waive the testing requirement to validate the coursework Sarah completed at a non-accredited institution. Suit was filed by Sarah Hubbard and her parents, John and Linda Hubbard, in federal district court for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division. The Honorable Walter S. Smith, Jr. presided over the case. In its opinion, the court clearly stated the central issue: "The issue is this: When a student transfers into a Texas public school from a non- accredited private school, can the student be required to pass a test thereby proving proficiency as to each course for which the student desires credit?" FACTS After a temporary restraining order was granted ex parte, the court scheduled a hearing on the application for a temporary injunction, which was to be combined with a hearing on the merits. The parties agreed to postpone a full hearing on the merits until August, and to allow Sarah to be treated as if she were a member of the junior class. The Plaintiffs came to the hearing with no less than five attorneys, three affiliated with the Christian Law Association from Florida, and two local attorneys. The court issued a scheduling order with unusually short timelines so the case could be adjudicated before Sarah’s senior year was to begin. The parties filed cross- motions for summary judgment, and the court allowed oral argument on the motions. After the arguments, the court advised the parties that the trial would not be necessary since the court was convinced that the matter could be dealt with by summary judgment. The plaintiffs pled nine causes of action: (1) violation of the Free Exercise Clause; (2) violation of the Establishment Clause; (3) denial of Equal Protection under 3
    • Bechtold, Bickham, & Singh the U.S. Constitution; (4) denial of Equal Protection under the Texas Constitution; (5) denial of procedural Due Process; (6) violation of parents’ right to direct the upbringing of a child;(7) violation of right to freedom of association (8) B.I.S.D. policy is void due to vagueness and over breath (9) violation of state law, with regard to award of credit and testing. The case was presented as an instance of religious discrimination and a violation of the plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, but the facts did not bear these claims out. The B.I.S.D. policy regarding transfer of credit applied equally to religious and nonreligious schools. Texas has a system of accreditation for private schools, and many religious schools are so accredited. Further, the three plaintiffs testified that they had no religious objections to the testing, that no religious practice or belief would prohibit Sarah from taking the tests, and that the B.I.S.D. policy does not violate their religious beliefs. Transfer of academic credits is governed by 19 T.A.C. § 74.26, and allows the system employed by B.I.S.D. DECISION The court granted B.I.S.D.’s motion for summary judgment as to all of plaintiffs’ claims and concluded that the policy did not burden the free exercise of religion. The court further found that the plaintiffs were not members of a suspect class for equal protection analysis, and that the policy was rationally related to a legitimate educational interest. Upon application, the court also awarded costs to B.I.S.D. The case was not appealed. DICTA "That parents have the primary right and obligation to control the education and upbringing of their children cannot be argued; but that right must have limits — otherwise a truant’s parent could plausibly proclaim that he or she was exercising his or her rights while "home-schooling" a child to be a safe-cracker or a prostitute." The ruling affirmed that the courts will be very reluctant to interfere with school operations in the areas of educational policy and academic decision making. The decision can be cited as Hubbard v. Buffalo Independent School District, 20 F.Supp.2d 1012 (W.D.Tex. 1998). IMPLICATIONS The Texas Senate has passed a bill which is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in City of Boerne v. Flores, 117 S.Ct. 2157. Senate Bill 138 would prohibit school districts and other political subdivisions from interfering with the free exercise of religion without showing a compelling interest. If this bill becomes law, it could tip the scales in favor of those wishing to be exempt from school rules or policies. The legislation could 4
    • Bechtold, Bickham, & Singh affect the authority of school districts with regard to dress codes, student discipline, absences, curriculum, employment practices and an array of other areas. This legislation, which is supported by the Governor, could be read to require schools to allow home schooled children to participate in certain school programs, such as extracurricular activities, or specialized classes. Currently, Texas public schools generally do not allow partial enrollment or extracurricular participation by students enrolled in private or home schools. It is unclear what impact the proposed Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act would have had on the Hubbard v. Buffalo I.S.D. litigation, but the proposed act is sure to invite litigation on several fronts. The presence of statewide and national advocacy groups which are willing to fund lawsuits to advance their social or political agendas will continue to be a source of litigation for school districts. The boundary of church-state interaction is continually being redefined by the courts, and the only thing we can count on is continued controversy and change. 5