Today’s classrooms are more dynamic than ever before. Educational needs of students are changing at breakneck speeds, along with the demands being placed on their teachers. There are associated legal and ethical implications that are evolving as rapidly as the technology that is driving a lot of the change. In order to have a chance to meet the needs of students and legal/ethical obligations, educators must have well developed classroom management techniques. These can get tricky quite often and require balancing the increasingly diverse needs of many different people.
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To be an effective teacher today is extremely difficult for these reasons. This essay will examine some of the current issues that teachers are exposed to in today’s classrooms by summarizing four journal articles and responding to them. The specific issues will be free speech and what it means in a school setting, cell phones in classrooms, bullying (specifically of students with disabilities), and gender specific dress codes. Freedom of Speech The issue addressed in the first article summary is freedom of speech and how it is interpreted in a public school setting in relation to the distribution of religious materials.
This is really not a new topic of debate. Current precedents have been set in court cases dating as far back as1969 and the Tinker vs. Desmoines case. In that case, the court decision reads that, in order to prohibit any students’ expression of opinion, the school must provide evidence to support the fact that the actions being suppressed would be significantly disruptive (Essex, 2006). Because it is an issue of ongoing debate there are cases still being heard all over the country.
This article is specifically in response to a case in the New York Supreme Court, where a student was prohibited from distributing religious fliers on school property. The question is, why was the student prevented from expressing her opinion in the first place. According to Essex (2006), one of the requirements placed on schools is that they remain viewpoint neutral. This means that if the literature was suppressed because it was religious in nature, the suppression violated her First Amendment rights, even in the school setting.
In all court cases, the real message has been that schools are responsible for making sure parents and students are aware that the schools are merely sending messages indiscriminately from religious and non-secular sources and that they are not in support of any of them (Essex, 2006). Really the essence of the article is that sound policies must be in place, well documented, and consistently followed for a school to be able to regulate what a student says or distributes and there must be no endorsement of any particular ideas from any group or student.
Cell phones The next topic of discussion is cell phones in classrooms. The article being summarized is entitled The Only Thing We Have to Fear is…120 Characters. In this article, Kevin Thomas and Christy McGee (2012) make arguments for the use of cellphones in classrooms in spite of the fact that 69% have banned them. This paper responds to the many reasons for disallowing their use, and then it goes on to highlight some ideas about why cell phones should be used as educational tools. Both sides of the discussion certainly make valid points.
If 69% schools have taken students cell phones away, there must be some reasons. Thomas & Mcgee (2012) identified and responded to four commonly offered rationales, including misuse for cheating, replacing Standard English with textese, sexting, and cyberbulling. It seems rather obvious that these are negative side effects of the technology, however there are also positive results that can be attributed to the use of cell phones. Today, they are relatively affordable and powerful miniature computers.
When used properly, the possibilities for better use of time are astonishing. According to Thomas and McGee (2012), teachers need to be modeling appropriate behavior with their portable electronic devices and taking advantage of the benefits because the technology is not the cause of the problems. The problems being associated with cell phones all existed in some form, long before modern technology. Thomas Diamates (2010) reports that courts have supported schools in their efforts to ban cell phone use as long as the school follow established procedures.
Bullying The third topic has to do with bullying, specifically students with disabilities. These students stand out in the classroom, as they are “different” and so they are subjects of increased abuse from fellow students (Eckes and Gibbs, 2012). Schools and teachers have an obligation to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004).
This paper looks at the findings in several court cases to establish what is required of teachers in situations where students with disabilities are being bullied. What this article shows is that there are an increasing number of suits against school where disabled children are being bullied. The interpretation of what is considered an appropriate education, and whether or not the school took proper preventative/disciplinary steps in light of the bullying are the reasons for these suits.
The findings of this study provide evidence that the courts will generally side with schools that have taken and documented actions to alleviate the harassment. In Brown vs. Monroe County Board of Education (1999), the Supreme Court ruled that for a school to be liable, it must receive federal funds, it must have been aware of and acted “deliberately indifferent” to the harassment, and the bullying must have been severe enough to deprive educational opportunity (Eckes and Gibbs, 2012).
Basically, schools must make an adequate effort to alleviate the harassment in order to limit their liability, and this has been upheld by the courts in cases like Werth v. Board of Directors (2007), and Biggs v. Board of Education (2002). Dress codes The last article on the list takes a look at how and why public schools can or cannot implement gender based dress codes. Proponents of dress codes list reasons including less distractions, less pressure to dress right, safety, and lower cost to families.
Opponents say that dress codes take away students expressive rights, which are already severely limited in school settings. In this particular case, Ceara Sturgis had her picture and name removed from her senior yearbook because she is a lesbian who was more comfortable wearing the school prescribed male outfit. The current question is whether or not this is in violation of her civil liberties. Historically the courts have upheld the rights of schools to implement dress codes with very few exceptions. In Blau v.
Fort Thomas Public School District (2005), a father brought suit against the school for violating 1st and 14th amendment rights with their dress code. The court found no violation of rights since “it is not related to suppression of the content of expression, it furthers a substantial government interest, and it does not burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further that interest” (Dowling-Sender, p. 34, 2005). On the other side of the coin, in United States vs. Virginia (1996), schools were required to show a “legitimate and important” reason for any gender based restrictions (Smith, 2012).
In Ceara’s case, the school is going to have to show that it meets all these criteria, and the outcome has some potentially far reaching consequences. What all this means is that teaching in todays classrooms must be dynamic. Teachers need to be aware of their ever-changing legal and ethical obligations as educators. Decisions must be based on sound judgment and carefully documented observations. Teachers, students, and parents must work together and communicate with each other to create the best possible learning environment for everyone.