Historic decision from 6th Circuit….

Zoom with the Dawg today at 10! We’ll talk about graduation exercises and the legal issues surrounding it. Open to Daily Dawg subscribers.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that children in our public schools have a fundamental constitutional right to a level of education that at least imparts literacy. Key Quote:

We hold, therefore, that the right to a basic minimum education—one that can plausibly impart literacy—is “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”  When combined with the historical analysis discussed above, this means that access to such a basic minimum education is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Texas educators should take a particular interest in this important decision because it relies heavily on two Supreme Court cases from Texas: San Antonio ISD v. Rodriguez (1973) and Plyler v. Doe (1982).  In the 1973 decision, SCOTUS held that education is not a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. That ruling moved the fight over equity in school finance to the state courts where it lasted for decades.  The Plyler case held that undocumented students had a constitutional right to education alongside the children who were born in the United States.  In doing so, the High Court held that education was a particularly important state function, thus entitled to a heightened level of scrutiny from the courts.

This new case arose out of abysmal conditions in five schools in Detroit.  The court noted that the allegations in the suit indicated that there was not even the pretense of “education” going on in those building, thus depriving the students of a chance at literacy, which is fundamental to the exercise of our other constitutional rights.  The majority opinion (this one was 2-1) made the point that education is unlike food, housing or medical care:

Simply put, education is different…..We can think of no other area of day-to-day life that is so directly controlled by the state. With that control must come responsibility, particularly because some minimal education—enough to provide access to literacy—is a prerequisite to a citizen’s participation in our political process.

This decision is historic because it is the first judicial declaration by a high level court of a right to some level of education that is protected by our nation’s founding document—the Constitution. However, the decision alone will not advance the cause of education one iota. This issue is likely to end up before the Supreme Court, and if the composition of the Court remains as it is, the decision is likely to be reversed. 

But in this time of COVID-19 when we see how critical our public schools are in our communities, this is a decision to be celebrated by educators.  So I wanted to be sure you knew about it.  It’s Gary  B. v. Whitmer, decided by the 6th Circuit on April 23, 2020.