Art Education and School Law

By Nash, Kymberly | School Arts, April 2005 | Go to article overview
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Art Education and School Law

Nash, Kymberly, School Arts

Throughout the day, art teachers make decisions--some impromptu, others after considerable deliberation. Some are simple, easy, black-and-white choices; others involve gray areas of uncertainty--areas that need legal interpretation. This article is intended as a guide for structuring curriculum and instruction to ensure that every student's educational rights are honored as well as the rights of the art teacher.


What are the legal issues related to ethics and censorship with implications for the artroom?

The law states that students cannot materially disrupt classwork or be involved in substantial disorder, or invade the rights of others. Speech is divided into two parts: protected and unprotected speech. Protected speech includes creative works that convey ideas that are historical, cultural, philosophical, religious, or ideological. The message is legitimate and others can understand its meaning. Unprotected speech includes creative works that are false, done intentionally to create shame, malice, ridicule, or obscenity. The message is most often misleading and causes substantial disruption. The courts have granted school officials, including the art teacher, the right to determine what speech or creative work is obscene or disruptive.

Academic Freedom

When can school and districts restrict teachers' freedom of expression with regard to the deliverance of the art curriculum and syllabi?

Schools and districts cannot restrict First Amendment rights unless they demonstrate that the art teacher's conduct would materially and substantially interfere with school discipline. They can, however, restrict certain ancillary materials or equipment and discussions that are not relevant to the curriculum. Art teachers have the right to select any teaching method that has a demonstrated educational purpose. Methods that are inappropriate or cannot be supported by professional theories are prohibited by school policy.

Safety, Injuries, and Liabilities

What are the legal issues related to supplies, equipment, materials, and student accidents in the artroom?

Art teachers must create an environment that is safe, clean, and user-friendly. Teachers must be familiar with the materials and equipment that are available for use in their programs.

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