Academic journal article Education Next

Supreme Modesty: From Strip Searches to School Funding, the Court Treads Lightly

Academic journal article Education Next

Supreme Modesty: From Strip Searches to School Funding, the Court Treads Lightly

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court under John G. Roberts is not looking to be our national school board, if opinions handed down in three varied cases at the end of its last term are a guide. The cases involved strip searches, private placement, and funding, which the media covered in inverse proportion to their significance for public policy.

The strip-search decision in Safford v. Redding got by far the most media attention. The case involved a 13-year-old girl in Arizona who had been ordered to strip to her bra and underpants, and to pull them away from her body so that school officials could look for prescription-strength Ibuprofen. The Court ruled 8 to 1 that this violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches. The media largely neglected that the ruling was limited to similarly invasive searches for similarly innocuous drugs and that it granted qualified immunity to the school officials who were responsible for the search.

Next in order of publicity was Forest Grove School District v. T. A., a case from Oregon in which the Court held 6 to 3 that parents could receive reimbursement for private school tuition even when their disabled child had never enrolled in a public school special education program. A brief filed by urban school districts raised the specter of wealthy parents gaming the system and driving up costs, but the effect of this decision will also likely be limited. Certainly, some parents will try to use the decision to fund private school, but significant requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remain in effect. For families to be eligible for reimbursement, an administrative board or court will still have to find that a public program could not meet the child's needs. In general, the cost and incidence of private placements appear to have been exaggerated in the media (see "The Case for Special Education Vouchers" features, page 36, and "Debunking a Special Education Myth," check the facts, Spring 2007).

Receiving almost no attention but potentially of utmost significance was Horne v. Flores, a case about English-language learning in which the Court divided narrowly along ideological lines, with Kennedy joining the five-member majority. The central issue is whether Arizona has satisfied the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA) of 1974, which provides that no state shall fail "to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation . …

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