American Public Education Law Primer

by David C. Bloomfield (Author)
©2007 Textbook XII, 162 Pages
Series: Counterpoints Primers, Volume 15


This readable introduction to American public education law is designed to assist practicing educators, college and graduate students, parents, and the public in acting on everyday legal issues such as student expression, church/state separation, student and teacher discipline, curriculum, legislating and lobbying, parent associations, discrimination, special education, No Child Left Behind, student privacy, and more. Unique features include practical situations, the «Facts and Find» research method, and the «Cascade» approach to understanding the American legal system.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Praise for the First Edition of American Public Education Law Primer
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1: The Cascade of American Public Education Law
  • Facts & Find
  • The Source of Law Cascade
  • Time: The Hidden Dimension
  • The Cascade’s Descending Structure
  • Federal and State Constitutions
  • Statutes
  • Regulations
  • How Is Regulatory Guidance Like a Box of Rice-A-Roni?
  • The Place of Localities, School Districts, and Private Entities in the Cascade
  • The Judicial Cascade
  • Legal Research
  • Paralysis Is Not an Option
  • Glossary
  • Chapter 2: Student Issues
  • Expression
  • Facts & Find: Dress Code
  • Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986)
  • Electronic Expression: Social Networks, Texting, and Sexting
  • Discipline
  • Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975)
  • Facts & Find: Search and Seizure
  • Facts & Find: Legislating
  • Facts & Find: Political Advocacy
  • Facts & Find: Corporal Punishment
  • Discriminatory Discipline Policies and Practices
  • Religion
  • Facts & Find: Student Work
  • Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793 (2000)
  • Glossary
  • Chapter 3: School District Issues
  • Curriculum
  • Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)
  • Facts & Find: Library Acquisitions
  • Instructional and Library Materials Selection
  • Teacher Discipline
  • Facts & Find: Termination
  • Facts & Find: Child-Abuse Reporting
  • Child Abuse Reporting Information Sheet
  • Boards of Education and Parent Organizations
  • Facts & Find: Bylaws
  • Race, National Origin, and Gender Discrimination
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (Brown I )
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 349 U.S. 294 (1955) (Brown II )
  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007)
  • Facts & Find: Office for Civil Rights Complaint
  • Facts & Find: Sexual Harassment/Bullying and Gay Baiting
  • Charter Schools
  • Magic Words
  • Glossary
  • Chapter 4: State and Federal Issues
  • Special Education
  • Florence County School District Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993)
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Title I
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment
  • Facts & Find: School Security
  • Glossary
  • Chapter 5: References and Resources
  • Index

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This unique book provides an introduction to American public education law for college and graduate students, educators, and parents. Rather than merely rehashing the canon of Supreme Court case law on public education, the book draws on typical fact patterns that everyone in the field will recognize: curriculum decisions; student dress and discipline; inequitable treatment based on race, sex, or handicapping condition; child abuse; teacher firings; school board conduct; and more. Analysis of these facts through various local, state, and federal legal sources—constitutional, statutory, regulatory, and judicial—yields a comprehensive, practical introduction to American public education law that is both understandable and sophisticated. This is how lawyers really work and how the wise educator or parent can best become legally informed and active.

The first chapter presents the innovative “Cascade of American Public Education Law.” This helpful metaphor elegantly frames our myriad sources of law within a single concept. American law cascades from the Constitution, downward to state and federal legislative enactments, to regulations, to the regulatory guidance that drives so many real-world decisions. Each level requires consistency with provisions “upriver,” giving coherence to a legal system that often seems fractured and chaotic. The courts, with their own cascade of powers, apply their own precedents and interpret laws created by the other branches of government. The interplay of these forces (“the Cascade Game”) has profound implications for practitioners who want to control their legal destinies. Finally, the chapter provides ← ix | x → a helpful tutorial on basic legal research. This skill, so basic to a robust democracy, provides the book’s lay audience with access to material, detailed in the Resources and References, usually known only to legal professionals.

Chapter 2 addresses, primarily, issues involving student rights: expression including Social Media, discipline, and church/state separation. But in a wide-
ranging discussion of these topics, the roles of legislation and political advocacy are also explored, making this chapter a mini-handbook for those who seek to change the law as well as follow it. Everyone knows the frustrations of obeying laws that seem frivolous, cumbersome, or simply wrong. But the attitude that “you can’t fight city hall” breeds a demoralizing sense of resignation among professionals and the public that debilitates our public schools. If we use the lessons taught here—that the law is a dynamic, changeable set of rules subject to organized citizen action—then we become masters of our legal fate, not mere objects of arbitrary, static decisions. It is striking that many of the fact situations treated in this chapter turn on application of school and district policies rather than major legislative or judicial pronouncements. By aiming low at these powerful local sources of law, many legal battles can be won without bringing out the heavy artillery of expensive lobbyists or high-powered lawyers.

Chapter 3 broadens the horizon from individual students and schools to issues primarily affecting school districts. What are the legal limits on curriculum and materials such as selecting controversial materials for school libraries? When might educator actions on field trips or child-abuse reporting result in termination or even criminal charges? What exposure might a district suffer if school reform efforts exclude certain groups of disabled or “limited-English-proficient” students? These are the kinds of questions district administrators routinely face but that are rarely addressed in introductory education law texts. Dealing with these practical legal problems requires dexterity and facility with complex contemporary legal arrangements, skills cultivated in the chapter’s attention to the role of administrative agencies in modern American education law.

Nowhere has this shifting legal landscape been more apparent than in the role of state and federal governments in micro-managing contemporary public education. Once, principals and superintendents ruled their roosts, paying scant attention to governmental units beyond the district, save perhaps to calculate additional funding streams. Now, as we all know, the full regulatory apparatus of governmental oversight has been visited upon public schools, along with increasing judicial scrutiny. Chapter 4 describes the dimensions of state and federal involvement in special education, testing, and student privacy, which often dominate the news and require so much time from those of us toiling in the vineyards of public education.

In many ways, this book is a call to action by someone who has lived the many facets of American education law. Currently a professor in the graduate educational leadership program at Brooklyn College, CUNY, the author has a notable ← x | xi → record as an elementary and middle school teacher, parent leader, government official, and lawyer in private and school district practice. An honors graduate of Columbia University School of Law with a graduate degree in public affairs from Princeton, he has drafted legislation, litigated, negotiated, lobbied, organized, and counseled. Though grounded in scholarship, this book is a product of his extensive field experience as an educator, activist, and attorney.

However much we can learn here, the knowledge gained will be squandered if it is not acted upon. And such action is unavoidable, because we do not live in a legal vacuum. All around us, legal requirements—known and unknown—swirl: opportunities and tripwires, rights and responsibilities. Though the basics of teaching and learning would appear free from the deadening hands of law and lawyers, such reveries are but wishful thinking. Especially in public education, we educators and parents are as much creatures of the law as are judges, legislators, lawyers, and regulators. We exist in a social universe ruled by law. And we put ourselves and our charges in harm’s way if we deny that reality.

So I urge you to read this book as a matter of professional and democratic responsibility. There is no denying its importance. At the same time, I believe you will find within a powerful intellectual journey told with clarity and narrative purpose. The story of American public education law is the compelling fight resulting in Brown v. Board of Education, the quandary of religious devotion in a secular institution, the tension between authority and personal liberty, and the dual character of education as a progressive and conservative social force. In short, this text is not only a primer in American public education law but an instrument for informed civic participation.

Ramon C. Cortines
Former Superintendent
Los Angeles Unified School District

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The Cascade of American Public Education Law


This primer provides a brief introduction to American public education law for students, educators, and current or potential activists (meaning everyone). The first chapter, especially, is directed at the non-lawyer. No previous experience with the subject is necessary. The reader will be provided with a complete, if terse, foundation for understanding the American legal system as it relates to public schools. Each subsequent chapter will build methodically upon this understanding, topic by topic, so that in the end the scaffold will prepare all readers for entry into active legal engagement as serious, sophisticated, even dangerous analysts and advocates who can hold their own in the field through sound subject knowledge and agility.

Traditional education law books conform to the case-law approach, long a staple of law schools. This has some advantages but rarely will educators and activists—or most education lawyers, for that matter—need to engage in the discipline of appellate argument taught through the case-law method.


XII, 162
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Student expression Student discipline Education USA curriculum parent associations special education child abuse prevention Law Public Education School Law Educational Law and Legislation Schulrecht constitution
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2007. XII, 162 pp.

Biographical notes

David C. Bloomfield (Author)

The Author: David C. Bloomfield is Associate Professor and Head of Educational Leadership at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. A former elementary and middle school teacher, he holds degrees from Columbia University School of Law, Princeton University, and Brandeis University. He practiced education law at a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm prior to becoming General Counsel to the New York City Board of Education and education adviser to an elected official. A parent activist, Bloomfield is former President of New York’s Citywide Council on High Schools. He holds principal and superintendent certification.


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166 pages