Essay: Education Legal Handbook

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Teacher Rights and Responsibilities in the Trenton Public School District, Trenton, New Jersey

Academic freedom

Debates over academic freedom frequently involve questions such as whether the concept protects faculty members in a university or students as well, if academic freedom differs in public and private institutions, and the manner in which academic freedom should be enforced (Anderson, 2009). With respect to its legal foundation, Weidner (2003) advises that, "Academic freedom is not defined nearly as much as it is discussed. Although many assume that academic freedom is based in law, no one is quite sure what that law is" (p. 445). According to Galambos (2010), academic freedom specifically refers to "a civil right of academicians to engage in research, teaching, and scholarly production free from control or restraint from their college and university employers" (p. 1). This educator suggests that academic freedom also includes the right to pursue primary research, even if it is on a less-than-formal basis (Galambos). This point is also made by Tierney (2004) who emphasizes, "For many individuals, colleges and universities existed in large part to enable the search for truth by the faculty. Academic freedom codified the belief about the search for truth" (p. 161). Likewise, Galambos also mentions the association between academic freedom and the freedom to conduct primary research. In this regard, Galambos writes: "Connected to the right of tenure of office, the philosophical premise of academic freedom is the open investigation of data in search of objective facts and to engage in the inquiry process, apart from personal considerations" (p. 2).

The issue of academic freedom became the focus of several lawsuits during the latter half of the 20th century that shaped current approaches, including several seminal cases in support of academic freedom (i.e., Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485, 1952; Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 1957); however, the notion of academic freedom has received less protection in the post-September 11, 2001 environment (i.e., Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 2006). Indeed, Galambos concludes that, "Academic freedom must extend to the classroom, so that professors are afforded the opportunity to present all competing views on controversial issues" (p. 2).

Despite these restriction of the concept to faculty only, academic freedom is also extended to include students in the Trenton Public School District and the issue is specifically addressed in the published goal of the Trenton Public School District's Media Technology Academy which is, "To provide an environment of academic freedom where students are able to study, discover, and achieve as they examine real-world environments and collaborate with teachers and one another" (Media Technology Academy mission statement, 2013) and the Applied Engineering and Science Academy's description that states, "The academy provides an environment of academic freedom where students are able to discover, evaluate, and achieve" (2007, p. 18).

2.

Freedom of association and expression

According to Black's Law Dictionary (1990), freedom of association means the "right to peaceably assemble as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution" (p. 664) and freedom of expression means the "right guaranteed by First Amendment of U.S. Constitution, includes freedom of religion, speech and press" (p. 664). Because the Bill of Rights does not become inapplicable at the schoolhouse door, the Trenton Public School District's Equal Education Opportunity policy stipulates that all pupils and students "shall be afforded due process of law, freedom of expression and association and the privacy of his or her own thoughts" (Equal Education Opportunity File Code 5145.4, 2004).

3.

Freedom of religion

The definition of freedom of religion provided by Black's Law Dictionary (1990) states that this term means, "Freedom to individually believe and to practice or exercise one's belief [in re Elwell, 455 Misc. 2d, 252]" (p. 664). As noted above, the Trenton Public School District's Equal Education Opportunity regulation (File Code 5145.4, 2004) guarantees the freedom of religion for all pupils and students pursuant to the First Amendment, but the District's regulations also stipulate that, "Pupils shall respect the rights of other pupils to receive an education in an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth. No pupil shall have the right to abridge another pupil's right to privacy or right to hold personal beliefs which are different from those of the mainstream" (p. 2). In addition, there are waivers to the Trenton Public School District's school uniform policy are available pursuant to religious freedom laws. For instance, according to Trenton Board of Education Policy (File Code 5133), waivers are available "for those families who belong to a denomination or sect that has historical religious tenets that can be verified which preclude a student from wearing clothing other than the religious apparel: N.J.S.A. 18A:11-8" (p. 2). This freedom in particular has been the source of a growing amount of distrust and suspicion among young people and teachers are in an excellent position to address this lack of religious awareness and understanding. For instance, according to Haynes (2011), "If we hope to prevent religious discrimination and division in the United States, schools need to take religion seriously, not only to increase religious literacy, but also to promote religious freedom as a fundamental, inalienable right for every person" (p. 8).

4.

Employment rights and responsibilities

The Trenton Public School District complies with all federal and state laws concerning employment (Trenton Board of Education Regulation No. R1400, 2010). All employees in the Trenton Public School district have a right to a copy of their job descriptions which shall include:

a) the goals of the position as they relate to district goals;

b) the qualifications of the position holder including the certificate and endorsement required for the position and such other prerequisites for employment as the possession of a license to operate a vehicle or machine;

c) the functions, duties, and responsibilities of the position;

d) the extent and limits of the position holder's authority; and,

e) the working relationships of the position within and outside the school district.

Each Trenton Public School District employee's is also entitled to a job description that will:

a) Be written in clear language that briefly describes the major functions of the position;

b) Whenever possible, be generic in form, covering a number of specific positions;

c) Be written in the same format, using the active and present tense, operational verbs, common terminology, and a direct, simple style; and,

d) Be gender neutral or employ both male and female pronouns (Trenton Board of Education Regulation No. R1400, 2010).

In addition, the Trenton Board of Education's policy is that no qualified handicapped/disabled person shall, on the basis of handicap/disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in employment or under any program, activity or vocational opportunities sponsored by this Board. The Board shall comply with §504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Board shall also comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act through the implementation of Policy No. 2460 and Regulations Nos. 2460 through 2460.14 (Trenton Board of Education Regulation No. R1510, 2010).

Further, it is the policy of the Trenton Public School District Board of Education to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitation of any otherwise qualified handicapped/disabled applicant or employee unless the Board can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the program (Trenton Board of Education Regulation No. R1510, 2010).

All employees of the Trenton Public School District are also required to maintain professional relationships with pupils and students at all times; in addition, all employees are also required to develop wholesome and constructive relationships with these young learners and to afford all pupils and students with the rights and respect they are due (Equal Education Opportunity File Code 5145.4, 2004).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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