9th Circuit doesn’t want to hear from experts….

Normally, judges are quite interested in what an expert has to say.  If a witness qualifies as an “expert witness” their testimony will be important.  Expert witnesses are often called in education cases. There can be experts on reading, autism, behavior, child development, etc.  But in a recent decision the 9th Circuit held that the lower court was correct when it refused to even consider the input of an expert. 

Context: this was a suit brought by an organization of Hindu parents who believed that the California State Standards disparaged that religion, and treated it unfavorably compared to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  They produced the report of an expert on the history and beliefs of the Hindu faith.  The court said, in effect, “we don’t care what the experts think. What do ordinary people think when they read the State Standards?”  Key Quote:

We must evaluate the Standards and Framework from the perspective of an objective, reasonable observer, and not that of an academic who is an expert in the field.

With that perspective in mind, the court found nothing disparaging or unequal in the treatment of the Hindu faith compared to any of the other world religions. 

The more important lesson of this case is that courts are not going to micromanage school curriculum decisions, or allow a small group of parents to do so.  This is just one of many instances in which a well-intentioned group of parents try to dictate what is taught in the public schools.  In this ruling the 9th Circuit relied heavily on an earlier case in which the plaintiffs were offended by racially derogatory terms in books like Huckleberry Finn.  Those parents were rejected, as were the Hindu parents. 

There are several good quotes from this decision:

….once parents select a school for their child, parents cannot “compel public schools to follow their own idiosyncratic views as to what information the schools may dispense.”

Parents therefore do not have a due process right to interfere with the curriculum, discipline, hours of instruction, or the nature of any other curricular or extracurricular activities.

One judge added a concurring opinion that included this:

Plaintiffs’ efforts to wring an Establishment Clause violation from subtle differences that they perceive in the curricular treatment of various religions does not withstand scrutiny, and, if accepted, would paralyze educators in their lawful objective of treating religion as a topic relevant to world history.

This one is California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials v. Torlakson, decided by the 9th Circuit on September 3, 2020.  We found it at 2020 WL 5247607.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!