“For Their Own Good: Limit Students’ Rights”

by Ted Frank on December 30, 2003

Richard Arum (see Nov. 14) writes again about the perverse effects of litigating students’ rights have had on public school education. A 1975 Supreme Court case, Goss v. Lopez, extended due process rights to student discipline, literally making every effort by a school to punish a student for misbehavior a federal case. (Washington Post, Dec. 29) (via Jacobs).

Naturally, teachers and schools respond by under-disciplining rather than risk being told that their discipline was a civil rights violation. But the effects ripple from there. School districts adopt “zero tolerance” policies so that they can’t be accused of abusing their discretion. Private school discipline is a matter of contract, rather than government due process, so the Goss line of cases does not affect them; the result is just another way in which the federal court system has disadvantaged public schools relative to private schools. Wealthier parents substitute away from public schools to private schools, reducing political support for public schools and disadvantaging the schools further. The ones who lose the most? The children from poor families who have no choice but to attend a public school system where lack of discipline makes learning unreasonably difficult.