With the support of her mother, eighteen year old high school student, Sydney Spies from Durango, Colorado files a complaint claiming that her high school’s decision to reject her racy senior picture for the yearbook is a violation of her civil rights. Their claim is that the photo displays her personality as an artistic model and dancer and violates her freedom of self expression.
The problem is that their claim lacks credibility due to the fact that her self-expression wasn’t suppressed in her own public format, but in the format of publicizing it under a yearbook that is owned and published by the high school. Publishers have a right to reject content that violates their rules, regulations and code of ethics. Schools have a right to reject public displays of sexualization and objectification of their students. They understand the ripple effect of allowing one student to violate school rules and the damage that it can create within their student body as well as other schools in the community.
The number of lawsuits against schools and teachers have been rising over the last decade. According to an American Tort Reform Association survey, almost one third of all high school principals have been involved in a lawsuit in the last two years, compared to only nine percent ten years ago. As a result, schools and teachers who are already underfunded and under-paid, are having to obtain professional liability insurance to protect them against over-zealous lawsuit claims.
In a journal published by the Education Law Association, it can be argued that public school litigation has had an important impact upon education. In the previous century, lawsuits were influential in ending segregation, protecting the First Amendment rights of all students, and expanding the public education opportunities for children with disabilities. Presently, there are lawsuits seeking to change schools (e.g., school funding challenges, school choice, and the No Child Left Behind Act). While it can be argued that education lawsuits have had an important impact upon education, others argue that there are too many school lawsuits and that matters could be resolved in other non-litigious ways.
As the trend of litigation increases, schools and teachers have been losing parental support as well as control of their classrooms. When a teacher disciplines a student, there are a number of parents that react by threatening a lawsuit against the school that was created to provide an education for their children. When parents threaten lawsuits, children seize an opportunity to break the rules and challenge the teachers to discipline them. As a result, teachers have to attempt to educate while walking on a tight rope when it comes to correction. When a teacher is afraid of enforcing law and order with the fear of a lawsuit, it makes it very hard to gain control of a classroom and the respect of the students. This of course, is all for a humble teachers salary.
This makes me reflect on the utter abuse of the constitution of the United States. Are we allowing too many to abuse our constitution for personal gain? Are we accepting frivolous lawsuits that manipulate our civil liberties as a tool for excusing inappropriate behavior and evading personal responsibility? Where do we draw the line?
Based on the trends, it appears that civil rights are often abused at the cost of the right thing and freedom of speech at the cost of child advocacy and social responsibility.
Lastly, if the implication of a racy photo is a proud display of the student’s academic achievement, then the school is doing the right thing by redirecting the focus to the entire mission of an educational institution. It’s a high school yearbook, not an issue of Maxim Magazine.
The Education Law Association 2007, An Evaluation of the Legal Literacy of Educators and the Implications for Teacher Preparation Programs Retrieved from http://educationlaw.org/2007%20Conference/Papers/A7Wagner.pdf on January 11th, 2012