From My Side of the Desk: A Case for School Law

AuthorNora M. Findlay
From My Side of the Desk
A Case for School Law
Nora M Findlay
It was June 2000, and I had jus t been appointed vice-princ ipal at a medium-
sized high s chool in an urban cent re in Saskatchewa n. Prior to my appoint-
ment, I had been a teache r of English langu age arts at the seconda ry level
for ten years. I reca ll going into the vice-pri ncipal’s oce for the rst time
in order to prepare for t he upcoming school year and scou ring the shelves,
desk, and bookca se for a textbook — anything — t hat could assist me in
my new role, which I somewhat na ively assumed revolved ar ound student
discipline. At t he time I held two undergradu ate degrees, one in Arts a nd
one in Education. Alt hough a graduate degree or spec ial certication wa s
not a requirement for sc hool-based administ rative positions in the sc hool
division, I a lso had applied for, and be en accepted into, par t-time gradu-
ate studies at un iversity. That fa ll, then, a s I assumed my role as a h igh
school vice-principa l, I also emba rked upon a Master’s progra m in Edu-
cational Adm inist ration, and t he rst class I e nrolled in wa s a course in
edu cat ion l aw.1 The class engende red in me a keen interest in the l aw and
its nexus wit h education and provided me, in part , with the knowledge I
1 See Anthony F Br own & Marvi n A Zuker, Education Law, 4th ed (Toronto: Thom-
son Carswel l, 2007) at 2–4 for a deta iled descript ion of education law th at reects
the complexit y of the eld, in wh ich they also d istingu ish the “sub-cat egory of
school law” t hat “includes ar eas that mat ter to principal s, teachers, pa rents and
students , including st udent safet y and discipli ne, special ed ucation, parent al
harassm ent, school counci ls, student re cords, teachers’ dut ies, and princi pals’
duties” (ibid at 4). More succi nctly, Thomas McMor row, “Questionin g the ‘Law’ in
Education Law ” (2014) 23 Education and Law Journal 209 d enes education law a t
209 as “the ar ea of law, legal practice a nd scholarsh ip which focuse s on the inter-
section of t he education syste m and the legal sy stem.”
2 / Nora M Findlay
had sought to in form my decision making in my work w ith students.2 In
the years th at followed, I became inc reasingly more convi nced, not only of
the central ity of education law in the day-to-day pract ice of teachers and
school-based admi nistrators, but al so of the need for educators to become
legally literate.3
Education law is a par t of a constellation of areas , such as curricu lum
and inst ruction, as sessment and eva luation, and spe cial education , that
shape the role of contemporar y educators; but as a foundat ional element in
the daily pra ctice of teachers a nd school-based admi nistrators, its signi -
cance canno t be overstated.4 Argu ably, knowledge of education law serves
the interest s not only of educators but als o of students, as D r Gregory M
Dickinson of Wester n University notes:
2 McMorrow, ibid at 221, ment ions, as a point of int erest, the lack o f research ind i-
cating “t he extent to whic h” educators at all leve ls “base thei r decisions on ex-
pressly legal c onsiderations.”
3 Charles J Russo & Doug las Stewar t, in “The Place of E ducation Law in the I nter-
national C ommunity” (2001) Educat ion Law Journal 18 at 19, arg ue that “educators
need a broad-base d understand ing of the law th at will not onl y enable them to
recognis e when legal problems a re developing, but w ill also g uide them in dea l-
ing eect ively with sit uations aft er they have ari sen.” See also Mark L ittleton,
“Teachers’ Knowle dge of Education Law” (2008) 30 Ac tion in Teacher Education 71
at 76, who sugges ts “inadequat e legal knowledge m ay discourage r isk takin g
and innov ation” among teachers a nd that “uni formed teacher s who grapple with
dicult s ituations may e lect the politic ally accepta ble response in lie u of the
legally cor rect response.”
4 Eric M Roher & Simon A Wormwell , An Educator’s Guide to the Role of the P rincipal
(Aurora, ON: Aurora P rofessional Pr ess, 2000) at 221, mai ntain “every ac tion
taken by a sc hool board, school a dminist rator, principa l or teacher is found ed
upon a law which eit her permits t hose actions or l imits them i n some way,”
while Jay P Heuber t, “The More We Get Together: I mproving Coll aboration Be-
tween Educat ors and Their Law yers” (1997) 67:3 Harvard Educati onal Review 53 1
at 532, arg ues “the law aec ts such centra l educational m atters as scho ol gov-
ernance, c urriculu m, pedagogy, sta ng, the physica l conditions un der which
educators and s tudents work, a nd equalit y of educational opp ortunit y.” See also
Sheila Stelc k, “Walking t he Tightrope: How Supe rintendents R espond to Chal-
lenging R ights Issues a nd the Role of Law” (2009) 18 Education and L aw Journal
249 at 251, who obser ves that “law pe rvades the educ ation system: it is t he basis
for the creat ion of schools, the for mation of forma l relationsh ips within sc hool,
and it descr ibes and prescri bes the rights , duties and respon sibilities of a ll those
who work and stu dy in the school sy stem.”

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