Tags: Supreme | Court: | Pupils | May | Grade | Papers

Supreme Court: Pupils May Grade Papers

Tuesday, 19 February 2002 12:00 AM

In a case out of Oklahoma, a lower court had ruled the practice is banned by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

But in the majority opinion Tuesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the practice was none of the federal government's business.

Kennedy said that the lower court, a federal court of appeals, believed "that if Congress forbids teachers to disclose students' grades once written in a grade book, it makes no sense to permit the disclosure [to other students] immediately beforehand . ...

"The court of appeals' logic does not withstand scrutiny," Kennedy said. "Its interpretation, furthermore, would effect a drastic alteration of the existing allocation of responsibilities between states and the national government in the operation of the nation's schools."

Kennedy said during argument in the Supreme Court last November, the lawyer for the challengers "seemed to agree that if a teacher in any of the thousands of covered schoolrooms in the nation puts a happy face, a gold star or a disapproving remark on a classroom assignment, federal law does not allow other students to see it . ...

"We doubt Congress meant to intervene in this drastic fashion with traditional state functions," Kennedy continued. "Under the court of appeals' interpretation of [the law], the federal power would exercise minute control over specific teaching methods and instructional dynamics in classrooms throughout the country. The Congress is not likely to have mandated this result, and we do not interpret the statute to require it."

All of the other justices signed on to Kennedy's opinion, except for Justice Antonin Scalia, who filed his own concurring opinion.

The case comes out of Oklahoma's Owasso School District.

"Some teachers in the Owasso School District utilize students to grade homework papers and week tests by having the students exchange papers and score one another's work as the teacher goes over the answers aloud in class," a petition from the school district told the Supreme Court.

"Under Oklahoma law, a teacher may be responsible for teaching up to 140 students a day," the petition continued later. "It would be virtually impossible for a teacher to grade all 140 homework papers or weekly quizzes overnight and have them ready to be returned the following day, and it would be utterly impossible for a teacher to grade that many papers and return them on the same day . ..."

One mother of three pupils disagreed. Kristja Falvo's 10-year-old son, Philip Pletan, was a special education student being "mainstreamed" into the regular classroom. "Philip was subjected to humiliation, ridicule and loss of privacy" because of the student grading, Falvo's lawyers said in her brief to the high court.

Falvo said she complained during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years without result. Then she filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Philip, her two daughters and all other pupils in the same situation. Falvo cited the federal law and the privacy guarantees inherent in the 14th Amendment.

But a federal judge ruled for the school district, saying "the interim tests and homework assignments ... are not 'highly personal' matter worthy of constitutional protection." The judge also ruled such material was outside the scope of records protected by the federal law.

A federal appeals court agreed in part and disagreed in part.

The appeals court upheld the judge on the constitutional issue, but reversed on the federal law. The types of papers and tests graded in the classroom were "education records" under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, the appeals court said.

The school district then asked the Supreme Court for review, saying the lower-court decision "will have a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of our nation's public schools."

Tuesday, the Supureme Court reversed the appeals court and sent the case back down for a new hearing.

(No. 00-1073, Owasso Independent School District No. I-001 et al. vs. Falvo et al.)

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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In a case out of Oklahoma, a lower court had ruled the practice is banned by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. But in the majority opinion Tuesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the practice was none of the federal government's business. Kennedy said that the...
Supreme,Court:,Pupils,May,Grade,Papers
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2002-00-19
Tuesday, 19 February 2002 12:00 AM
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