There are public K-12 education issues which cannot be handled by using the standard school procedures and require judicial resolution.
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As opposed to the European systems, the American public school education system in s federalism with decentralized educational structure and diverse perspectives on the rules of handling the conflicts in all the fifty states.
Meeting the demands of the contemporary educational system, the san school administrators need to constantly enhance their knowledge of legal issues and the innovative trends in the sphere.
The interviewee, a district superintendent, has taken several pieces of training on the legal resolution of the school conflicts which were helpful for his professional practice.
Still, future training is important for deepening knowledge and being in the know of the latest changes in the sphere.
Because of the constant lack of time, the superintendent does not regularly receive training on legal issues through this aspect of the school administrator’s professional competence is of crucial importance for handling the situations when the law is violated which may occur at a public school.
There is a wide range of high-risk situations in which the conflicts of interests and illegal behavior may take place.
The teacher-related and the student-related cases are the two broad categories which require administrator’s knowledge of appropriate procedures and legislative norms for handling the problems which require the judicial resolution.
Employee discrimination, educator misconduct, and the employment issues which are predetermined with the changes in the Family Medical Leave Act are the most frequently occurring teacher-related cases.
The student discipline and No Child Left Behind Program Implementation are the main student-related issues which may take place in the practice of the public K-12 system and require special attention at the legal training.
The interviewee said that the main difficulties with solving the conflicts at the public schools are predetermined with the federalist nature of the American public school system, the particular discrepancies in the legislation acts between the states and the ongoing processes of changes in the existing procedures.
Alexander and Alexander (2005) noted that “The power of operation of the public educational system originates with a constitutional delegation to the legislature to provide for a system of education” (p. 2).
It means that all the legal procedures have the constitutional basis and even differing among various locations should correspond to the principle of the priority of the constitutional law.
Thus, the theoretical part of the legal training which covers the issues of the written constitutions should not be underestimated because it provides school officials with an opportunity to better understand the current legislative norms.
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Though in every single situation, an administrator has to implement the appropriate regulation norm, the knowledge of the constitutional propositions is important for not only implementing the procedures but also understanding them.
The interviewee admitted that fortunately, his experience of implementing his knowledge of legal acts in practice is not that rich. It is possible that the knowledge of the appropriate legal procedures allowed handling the conflicts on the local level, preventing the necessity of the judicial resolution.
One of the real-life examples from the interviewee’s professional practice was related to the Family and Medical Leave Act. This labor law requires providing employees with unpaid leave because of a serious health condition or to take care of a sick family member.
There was a misunderstanding at one of the school departments when one of the employees returned from the unpaid leave and was deprived of some of the privileges which she had before she went for a leave to care for a new child because the realities of the education process were changed and the working conditions of all the rest of employees were changed as well.
This conflict became a basis for the litigation process because of the employee’s position concerning the issue.
Though the judicial resolution was that the employee’s rights were not violated, the litigation procedures required the unplanned expenses on the attorney’s fees and cast a shadow on the reputation of the school.
The interviewee concluded that with the recent information revolution, the awareness of the population concerning their rights has increased but remains insufficient as it can be seen from particular litigation cases in which the accusation is recognized as ungrounded and is predetermined with the misinterpretation of the current legislature and lack of legal education of the population.
The interviewee admitted that concentrating on their rights; employees may sometimes forget about their duties and professional functions. Thus, some employees may violate the discipline norms because of their poor motivation and certainty that they will not be hired.
Lunenburg and Ornstein (2008) noted that “Local boards of education possess the legal authority to terminate the employment of school personnel” (p. 372).
Hiring and termination are the important aspects of administrator’s competence which require a profound knowledge of the current legislation and ability to prioritize professionalism over the interpersonal relationships with the staff.
The legal training can be helpful for increasing the administrators’ confidence in his/her decisions and choices by supporting them with the knowledge of the corresponding legislative acts and formal procedures for handling these or those conflicts instead of violating the interests of some of the parties without appropriate argumentation.
Along with the increasing awareness of the population on the legislation procedures, improvement of the legislative acts and widening the scope of the issues which can be handled through the judicial resolution resulted in the growing number of the litigation cases.
One of the widely spread reasons for turning to the court is the teacher’s misconduct from the students. Students and their parents can complain about the violation of learners’ rights and start the litigation process accusing the educators of misconduct.
These accusations are sometimes related not only to sexual misconduct and harassment but also to the suppression and offense of the students. The teaching profession can become one of the occupations with a high risk of litigation liability.
The interviewee noted that contemporary educators should bear in mind their litigation liability while entering the classroom. The legal training is important for the school administrators for preventing or handling the conflicts on the local level if it is possible.
Students’ related issues are another broad category of the sources of the litigation processes. Considering the present day situation, the discipline problems are only the minor issues which need to be taken into consideration for preventing the litigation processes.
At present, students can bring alcohol, drugs or weapon to school, harming other learners, educators and school administration. The main difficulty is in controlling students without violating their rights for privacy.
Imber and Van Geel (2010) noted that “Securing order in the school environment sometimes requires that students be subjected to greater controls than those appropriate for adults” (p. 202).
At the same time, it is important not to go too far and not turn the school setting into the correction department.
On the one hand, the relationships of mutual trust are important for creating the conditions for the effective teaching-learning process and realization of the potential of all the players of the education system.
The administrator’s style of leadership plays an important role in creating the atmosphere at the institution and has a significant impact on the relationships between the educators and educators and their students.
Merseth (1997) noted that “Superintendents build and maintain a positive rapport with board members by being honest, providing knowledge and assistance, using two-way communication, establishing mutual respect, being cooperative and earning trust” (p. 224).
Thus, knowledge of legislative acts is important for the school administrator for handling the occurring conflicts but insufficient for creating the conditions of mutual trust and assistance at a public school.
Considering the peculiarities of the education sphere, the importance of the establishment of the rapport between the parties and their interpersonal relationships should not be underestimated.
The interviewee admitted that the personal example of the administrator, willingness to assist the educators in their assignments, open-mindedness and overall respect for diversity are significant for modeled behaviors of a professional educator.
Summarizing his experience of working in a public K-12 education system, the interviewee concluded that only on the condition of meeting all these requirements, an administrator would be able to influence the behavior of others and develop the appropriate procedures for controlling and reducing the risks of occurrence the conflicts and following litigation liability.
With the recent shifts in the education systems and the public consciousness, the regular legal training of the school administrators becomes important for preventing the litigation liability cases where it is possible.
The regularity of the training is important because of the ongoing changes in the legislative acts and the inability of educators to follow all the alterations without external help.
The attendance of the training is helpful for not only deepening knowledge of the current legislation but also interpreting the acts for the purpose of narrowing the gap between theory and practice.
The training would be beneficial for all the participants of the teaching-learning process, including teachers and students, having an impact on the procedures of the institution and possibly even the atmosphere in it.
At the same time, the legal competence of the administrator can be helpful for preventing the legal litigation cases based on an inconsistent accusation, reducing the expenses of the school on handling the conflicts using judicial resolution.
The interviewee, a district superintendent, has supported his assertion concerning the importance of the legal training for the administrator’s professional competence with examples from his professional experience of working in the public K-12 education system.
Fiore (2004) noted that “School administrators must operate within the legal framework of our country, staying aware of the changes in how courts interpret institutional issues” (p. 241).
The regular legal training of the school administrators is important for enhancing their knowledge of the current legislation and developing their skills of implementing the acquired theoretical knowledge within a public school setting.
Alexander, K. and Alexander, M. (2005). American public school law. Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning.
Fiore, D. (2004). Introduction to educational administration: Standards, theories, and practice. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Imber, M. and Van Geel, T. (2010). Education Law. New York, NY: Routledge.
Lunenburg, F. and Ornstein, A. (2008). Educational administration: Concepts and practices. Belmost, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
Merseth, K. (1997). Cases in educational administration. London: Longman.