Educational Law & Legislation

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The Courts, the Charter, and the Schools

The Impact of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on Educational Policy and Practice, 1982-2007
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Legal Dimensions of Education

Legal Dimensions of Education

Implications for Teachers and School Administrators
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Excerpt

Introduction

It has been said that today we are living in a highly litigious society. Simply stated, it means that more so than ever before our citizenry is quite keen on their individual rights and are prepared to advocate for those rights. Technological advances with respect to the use of the internet and the media in general facilitate individuals becoming more informed as to what those rights are, thus affording them a degree of comfort in ensuring that their rights are protected and honored.

What does all of this mean for teachers and school administrators? Today’s schoolhouse is a complex assortment of a multitude of individual persons and their accompanying dynamics gathered together in relatively close quarters. On a day to day basis, things happen in schools and little wonder that some of those happenings evoke and often necessitate legalized or quasi-legalized responses.

This legal context is one that teachers and school administrators live with every day and they are very often challenged as to how to deal with the various situations that arise on a consistently regular basis. There is a very real need for educators to have some understanding of the legal dimensions in which they operate.

Rationale for Studying Educational Law

Teachers completing a Bachelor of Education degree may or may not undertake a study of educational law in their respective university programs. In some programs across this country such a course is mandatory, whereas in the majority of cases, a course in educational law is optional. Students doing a graduate degree in educational leadership or educational administration are very seldom required to complete a course in educational law. This current state of affairs is problematic for several reasons:

1. If students on their way to becoming teachers do not study educational law prior to their entering the classroom, how will they become aware of their legal rights and responsibilities as practicing teachers? The answer suggested here is that such awareness will result from a reactionary stance meaning that this awareness will come after the fact. Once something of a negative nature has happened in the classroom or school building at large, then and then only will the teacher or school administrator be compelled to consider the legal ramifications of one’s action or lack of action. In any human activity, proaction as opposed to reaction is usually the preferred course of action. This is especially true of teaching and schooling.

2. Teachers in certain provinces (e.g., Ontario) are required to complete a course in Educational Law in order to qualify for their teaching certificate. Such a course is done under the purview of the Ontario College of Teachers. Not to diminish the value of having teachers complete this course for certification, Sydor (2006) points out that

“A minimalist interpretation of education law for teacher candidates enumerates and conceptualizes the law as a set of rules; this is sufficient for purposes of certification. Alternatively, the acts and regulations respecting education can be understood along with common law as the narrative framework for hope about how we might organize our social relationships with respect to the institution of education. The first approach permits an organized and orderly operation of our schools; the second makes transformation beyond order possible.” (p. 930)

One would suggest that in a university class students under the facilitation of a qualified instructor have the opportunity for a much broader discussion and engagement of the various issues experienced by educators in schools. The law at first blush appears to be black and white but upon closer scrutiny one realizes that this is not always the case; context plays a very valuable role in legal interpretations.

3. By the very nature of graduate programs in educational leadership or educational administration, students are encouraged and sometimes required to have a certain amount of teaching experience prior to entering the program. In educational law classes this allows for richer class discussions and hopefully results in a greater understanding of and appreciation for the value of being informed on the various laws relevant to education. Teachers going on to serve in leadership positions either at the school building or district levels will be called upon to proffer advice and guidance to their colleagues. It is imperative that they have an informed knowledge base of educational law. One could say that faculties of education offering graduate programs in educational leadership or educational administration are negligent in not requiring their students to study educational law!

Law and Educational Administration

A major aspect of educational administration in the K-12 school system is dealing with conflicts, whether they be student-student, student-teacher, teacher-administration, parent-teacher, parent-administration, or school administration- school board. The law is utilized as one of the major problem-solving mechanisms in educational administration and so it behooves those in administration to have an adequate working knowledge of “all things legal in school administration.” The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provincial school or education acts, teacher collective agreements, due process, grievance and arbitration procedures, liability and negligence are but a few of the topics that school administrators will become familiar with in their routine work in schools.

Richter (1994) offers this insight into the role that law plays in the practice of educational administration:

“From a broad perspective administration can be looked at as a decision-making process in organizations in which law has a dual function:

The decision-making process itself must be organized. Who is to decide what, and how are decisions to be made? The law determines competencies and procedures.

Decision making in organizations is a very complex process. What are the organization’s aims and by what means can they be reached? Law restricts the free choice of aims and means.” (p. 3272)

Educational law is certainly no panacea for solving all the problems and challenges that teachers and school administrators will experience in their everyday work with the various stakeholders. But as suggested above by Richter, it does have the potential to provide a framework for dealing with those problems and challenges.

Conclusion

Educational law has a positive and practical role to play in the daily work of educators. For educators to be effective in their various roles, it is imperative that they be cognizant of and conversant with the numerous legal dimensions of their profession. The study of educational law is an ongoing affair due to the changing nature of society’s expectations for education and schooling.

For Discussion

1. What are the common everyday perceptions of educational law that prevail in schools in general and staffrooms in particular “

2 If you were to select two to three high priority topics to study in educational law, what would they be and why?

3. Do you think that teachers and school administrators perceive educational law (or the legal dimensions of education) to be a significant part of their work as educators? Elaborate.

4. Primary-elementary v. junior-senior high sectors of schools: Does either one of these sectors call for a greater understanding of the legal dimensions of education? Elaborate.

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Education, Student Rights and the Charter

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