Education law is the area of law that applies to schools, teachers and students. It also provides the right to public education for all Americans. Schools must adhere to local, state and federal education laws. Education law also sets some standards that affect students who attend private school.
A typical public school contains students from all walks of life. School issues have grown more complicated in recent years, and the U.S. education system needs improvement to keep pace. For this reason, state legislatures continually create and amend laws.
School leaders familiar with current educational laws can refer to applicable laws when dealing with challenges that arise. Understanding these laws will also help them stave off potential problems.
How State Laws Work with Federal Laws
Federal laws relating to education specify what states must do to meet the needs of students. State laws cannot contradict federal laws. However, states can pass laws to enhance federal laws as long as they do not reduce protections.
For example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says students should receive transition planning services beginning at age 16. In Wisconsin, transition planning begins at age 14 and requires an update every year. In lowering the age by two years, Wisconsin offers added protection for students. It would not be legal for any state to change the starting age to 17 years as doing so offers less protection than federal law.
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction lists the federal and state laws that apply to its educational institutions. The administrative code covers everything from licenses and school finance to children with disabilities and pupil transportation.
Often, state laws focus on setting standards for evaluating teacher performance and student achievement. Although school administration cannot create laws, it can provide guidelines and terms for staff and student body conduct.
Current Issues Requiring Knowledge of School Law
One of the current issues involves supporting and protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students. The growing number of LGBTQ students is prompting increased attention, especially on the topic of bathroom bills and transgender students.
The pervasiveness of technology has taken bullying beyond face-to-face situations and into the digital world. Cyberbullying — bullying via text, email, social media and other digital means — has become a major problem for students, teachers and administrators. Now, not only can students bully each other at school, but they can also do it from anywhere at any time of day or night. Round-the-clock bullying has detrimental emotional effects that impact a student’s performance, which in turn, expands the roles of teachers, administrators and counselors.
Technology also comes into play regarding the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. If a student receives an inappropriate text message from another student while on school grounds, should the school administration get involved? One judge may say that texting is a private matter between sender and receiver, which gives administrators no authority to act. Another judge may say the text disrupts a student’s learning.
Recent changes in government leadership have put school vouchers in the spotlight. The National Education Association argues that the proposed education budget diverts funding from public education. School leaders need to understand and stay informed about such hot button issues because they could affect school finance.
Vouchers and education funding have come up in Wisconsin. “What the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education?” from The Washington Post reports, “State Superintendent Tony Evers has gone on record accusing lawmakers of moving toward new legislation ‘that erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system.”
Another important law getting attention is a Wisconsin bill that allows students to opt out of state standardized testing in grades four, eight, and nine through 11. A bill currently in the Wisconsin legislature could expand the list to include grades three through 11. Growing parent opposition to standardized testing spurred the creation of the bill.
How to Learn About Education Law
Educational administrators must understand the law to ensure everyone is held accountable and to protect the school, staff and students. Teachers, both new and experienced, also need to understand state and federal laws to make sure they are in compliance.
Teachers who enroll in education degree programs may have the opportunity to take classes in school law. School law is a core requirement in the PK-12 Principalship and Director of Instruction tracks of the Master of Science in Education — Education Administration online program from the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Those pursuing the Director of Special Education and Pupil Services track focus on special education law. This course covers the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), No Child Left Behind Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also discusses how these laws affect the education of learners who are disabled.
We live in a litigious society in which students or parents who feel their rights have been infringed upon by educational institutions often take legal action. Educators who understand education law can ensure their staff follow the law to limit problems and litigation.