Courts Make School Safety Our Responsibility

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Raleigh

Last week, a 15-year-old student at Downers Grove North High School admitted that he brought homemade bombs to school two times during the 1998-99 school year.

In an even more high-profile case, seven youths recently were expelled from their Decatur school after starting a brawl in the bleachers.

And on Monday, a 13-year-old boy in Oklahoma shot four other students.

As we all know, I could list many more shocking incidents where students were put in harm's way by fellow classmates.

I talked with the parent of another student at Downers Grove North soon after the second bomb was found. She was angry and frightened. Her child had been in a classroom near where the bomb was found. Understandably, she wondered what level of protection her child was being afforded.

She was not the first parent I've heard voice that sentiment.

What are the rights of the students who are not violent or disruptive? They can best be explained by looking at the rights of all students. Many of these rights have been fashioned via federal court cases since many school districts receive governmental immunity protection in the state courts.

There have been different results in different courts, but some basic parameters have been decided by the Supreme Court.

In the landmark 1975 case Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court decided critical issues that guide school districts across the country concerning student expulsions and suspensions.

The case arose when nine students in the Columbus, Ohio, public school system challenged their suspensions. Not all the students were involved in the same incident, but they all thought their suspensions were unfair.

Six of the Columbus students were involved in a demonstration at one high school in which a student attacked a police officer who was trying to remove another student demonstrator. One of the students was suspended after a lunchroom scuffle that involved damage to school property. Another student was involved in a demonstration at yet another school.

The Supreme Court determined that a student's entitlement to a public education was highly protected because Ohio's laws made provision for a free public education and compelled attendance for people within a certain age range.

So public education fell into the protected interests covered by the 14th Amendment forbidding "the state to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. …