Magazine article Newsweek

Learn the Hard Way: Didn't Make the Cheerleading Squad? Might as Well Take Your Elementary-School Principal to Court

Magazine article Newsweek

Learn the Hard Way: Didn't Make the Cheerleading Squad? Might as Well Take Your Elementary-School Principal to Court

Article excerpt

Byline: Pat Wingert

Joe Pizza doesn't want to sound negative. An educator for 30 years--18 as principal of Silver Bay Elementary School in Toms River, N.J.--Pizza (pronounced Pee-sah) loves his job. But if he starts talking about what litigation is doing to American education, he can't hide his frustration. "Schools should be about what's best for the child, and secondly, we should be concerned about the law," he says. "But the law does tie our hands."

When he first started teaching, lawsuits didn't loom large in Pizza's imagination. Now, he says, schools get sued over anything, over nothing. Take the case of the group of fifth graders who were shooting hoops on the school playground one morning. The kids were breaking the rules--students aren't allowed to play on school property without adult supervisors. But when one of the boys broke his arm, his mother, who had no insurance, sued the school and the parents of all her son's playmates. She argued that her son deserved compensation because his injury meant he wouldn't be able to play baseball that summer. "The kid was not Mickey Mantle," Pizza said. Nonetheless, one of the parents' insurance companies ended up paying some damages.

Then there was the case of the fifth grader who wasn't picked for the cheerleading squad. The mom said the decision was personal--one of the judges didn't like her daughter--and took her complaint all the way up the administrative ladder, even though "this was only supposed to be a little extracurricular thing. …

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