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The School Law Handbook

reviewed by J. Patrick Mahon - 2004

coverTitle: The School Law Handbook
Author(s): William C. Bosher, Jr., Kate R. Kaminski, & Richard C. Vacca
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 0871208415, Pages: 215, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

The School Law Handbook: What Every Leader Needs to Know is an excellent desktop resource for school administrators. The authors are William C. Bosher, Jr., former school administrator and current professor, Kate R. Kamienski, an attorney, and Richard S. Vacca, Professor Emeritus. All the authors are affiliated with the Commonwealth Education Policy Institute at

Virginia Commonwealth University .

The book is divided into five major sections: The School Environment, Constitutional Issues, Students, Personnel, and Accountability. The structure of each chapter engages the reader. The chapters usually address more than one legal issue. The discussion of each issue begins with a scenario that raises legal considerations about that particular issue. The scenario focuses the reader’s attention on the essential legal elements of the issue. The next section, Legal Considerations, outlines applicable federal and state statutes and case law. The survey of state statutes helps administrators know more about the statutory law in their own states. Next, the authors address Policy Considerations. The Practical Considerations section provides general information about the issue and a list of questions useful to practicing administrators. In the final Postscript section, the authors address the specific issues raised in the opening scenario.

Having taught School Law, I appreciate the fact that the book addresses issues that are sometimes not covered in school law books. The issues are Crisis Management and Planning (pp. 10-16), Commercialism in Schools (pp. 40-46), Sick Building Syndrome (pp. 56-61) and Holidays (pp. 87-94).

The Handbook gives practicing administrators important information about the issues it covers and provides sound guidance for administrators in the following areas:

  1. The School Environment
    • School Safety (Search and Seizure, Crisis Management and Planning, Relationship with Law Enforcement, and Zero Tolerance Policies)
    • Commercialism in Schools
    • School Facilities (Community Use and Health Related Issues)
  2. Constitutional Issues
  • Religion in the Schools
  • Prayer, Religion as Curriculum, Holidays
  • Free Speech and Expression
  • School Board Meetings, Student Dress, Student Publications
  1. Students
  • Internet Use
  • Student Organizations/Clubs
  • Part-time Admission of Students
  • Student Medicine
  • Student Records
  1. Personnel
  • Personnel Evaluation
  • Governmental Immunity
  1. Accountability
  • Educational Malpractice

Given recent events related to school safety, administrators must be thoroughly informed on crisis management issues and policies. I know from personal experience that having a crisis management plan in place can facilitate the handling of a major crisis in a school.

The issue of commercialism in schools continues to vex school administrators as they balance health issues with activities that traditionally have provided local revenues for schools. The authors provide sound practical advice, “Health issues, the role of commercialism in schools, and the financial and pedagogical effects of such commercialism must all be considered” (p. 45). The caution to administrators about checking into state procurement laws before executing contracts is much needed. When are administrators free to negotiate contracts without using competitive bidding procedures?

The section on Sick Building Syndrome offers valuable advice to practicing administrators. It puts them on alert that they should document and take all such complaints seriously.

As our society becomes even more diverse, the celebration of holidays becomes a larger issue. This is a delicate political issue which administrators must address and the Handbook addresses these sensitive issues.

While no single book can cover all school law issues thoroughly, and there is always a lag time between manuscript preparation and publication, I am concerned that the Handbook omits what I consider to be some important topics. Coverage of these topics would make the Handbook even more useful.

The Handbook does not cover:

  • IDEA. As a high school principal, some of the major legal issues I had to deal with were related to legalities related to special needs students. While IDEA is referenced at locations throughout the text, a complete discussion of IDEA would help practicing administrators.
  • Desegregation. While many of the historical issues related to school desegregation are no longer in the legal forefront, issues related to affirmative action are still being hotly debated and litigated. A brief history of the major desegregation cases and their impact would give the reader a better foundation for dealing with such issues.
  • Corporal Punishment. In the wake of litigation and policy considerations, many states have banned corporal punishment. Other states have left the decision up to local school boards.
  • School Finance. Issues related to equity in funding are still being hotly debated in state legislatures.
  • Confederate Flag. The section on dress codes is incomplete without a discussion of whether students can wear clothing which displays the confederate flag. This is an issue for school administrators in many parts of the country.
  • Title IX—Sexual Discrimination. Given recent Supreme Court decisions related to Sexual Harassment, the Handbook should discuss the requirements of Title IX. Failure to handle sexual discrimination complaints in an appropriate manner exposes school systems to liability for damages.

The section on the Internet (p. 125) provides useful information for school administrators. I would have liked for the authors to have provided a list of questions which should be addressed in an Acceptable Use Policy. This is very important since student use of the internet is becoming more of an issue. Should students be advised that home pages generated on their personal home computers cannot threaten others nor defame others?

I have also found some inaccuracies in the text. The case cited as Brown v. Gwinnett County School District (p. 74) should be Bown v.

Gwinnett County School District .

Cinciceros v.

San Diego Unified (1995) (p. 132) is outdated. In 1997, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling (No. 94-55257) which remanded the issue to the District Court. The Circuit Court held that the school district could not deny use of school facilities during the lunch period if they allowed other student groups to use the facilities during the lunch period which was considered to be noninstructional time.

In another section, the authors state, “Although some states have crafted laws that permit certain types of discipline records to be transferred. . .” (p. 161). It is my understanding that federal law provides for the release of student disciplinary records to schools where a student intends to enroll. “FERPA currently permits schools to transfer any and all education records, including disciplinary records, on a student who is transferring to another school. (Retrieved July 5, 2004. http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/hottopics/ht10-28-02.html).

I could not find a reference to Pickering v. Bd. of Educationof Township High School (391 U.S. 563, 1968). This case discusses the conditions under which public school employees can speak out on matters of public concern and is essential to any discussion of teacher First Amendment rights.

With the limitations noted, I recommend the Handbook. I commend the authors for providing valuable information in a readable format for practicing administrators. I believe administrators will find the review of the statutory and case law informative. As administrators try to cope proactively with various legal issues, I know that they will find questions posed in each “Policy Considerations” section to be provocative and useful.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 12, 2004, p. 2253-2256
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11353, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 2:45:02 PM

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About the Author
  • J. Mahon
    ATLAS Communities
    E-mail Author
    J. PATRICK MAHON is a retired Georgia educator. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Georgia State University. He served as a high school principal for 20 years of his career. He has published articles in Educational Leadership, The NASSP Bulletin and The Illinois School Board Journal. He was a part time Assistant Professor of School Law for the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. Currently, he is a Site Developer for ATLAS Communities in Cherokee County, GA. ATLAS is an educational nonprofit organization which provides school improvement services to schools. His upcoming book on school law, tentatively titled, School Law for Busy Administrators is with the editors at the Education Law Association.
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