JON KATZ, P.C.
Attorney at Law
DEFENDING THE ACCUSED AND THE CONSTITUTION
Practicing Law Throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia
VIGOROUSLY DEFENDING STUDENTS' RIGHTS SINCE 2001
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ARTICLE:STUDENTS' RIGHTS - ZERO TOLERANCE IS WRONG
STUDENTS' RIGHTS - NOT FOR SALE
By Jonathan L. Katz
A grade school student gets suspended for giving a Tylenol tablet to a classmate. Another student gets disciplined for wearing a "sexually harassing" t-shirt. Another is suspended for carrying a Tweety Bird figurine attached to a long chain of the type used for lucky rabbits' feet.
Unlike the days when I was in public school, countless private and public schools around the country have implemented "get tough" and zero tolerance disciplinary measures in an attempt to address a whole host of perceived problems. To justify these measures, schools point to such matters as the drug war, Columbine and post-Columbine violence, political correctness and morality. However, many students and parents recognize that the pendulum has swung too far to the extremes of discipline, and that they must speak out to prevent unjust treatment of schoolchildren.
It is hardly radical to stand up against harsh school disciplinary measures. In fact, it is a poor civics lesson in a supposed open society for students to see unduly harsh, often one-size-fits-all discipline of students, particularly where the behavior is not violent and barely disrupts school activities.
The best place to start to counter unfair student discipline is at the front end, before disciplinary policies are approved and put into force. This means keeping up to date with proposed and current school policies, attending school administration meetings, and working to reverse or soften unduly harsh disciplinary policies.
When a student is disciplined, it is wise to inquire about the policy that has been violated, whether the policy is in writing, whether the policy has been sufficiently published, and whether the policy is applied fairly to all students.
A detention is one thing, but a suspension from school can amount to missed classes, missed examinations, and lower grades. A student can try to explain away the situation all s/he wants in a college application, but it appears that too many colleges screen students' total grades and standardized test scores before even reviewing explanations as to why certain grades do not sufficiently reflect a student's ability to perform well in college.
If the school administration will not reason with the parents and the student who is subject to discipline, it is time to seriously consider going to the mat. Public schools must give due process to their students, and this can mean the chance of formally petitioning the school's proposed or executed disciplinary action, and even going to court if a sufficient resolution cannot be reached with the school authorities.
Private schools do not necessarily owe due process to aggrieved students and their families. However, private schools have a financial incentive to try to resolve disputes with students and their parents. Moreover, private schools may have certain contractual obligations to give students a fair shake before a course of discipline is executed.
Whether the school is public or private, a school's mind might also be changed through tastefully publicizing the problem. All too often, imprudent actions can only be eliminated by shining a strong light on the problem. The major media, including television, have been taking interest in zero tolerance policies and other harsh disciplinary measures.
A qualified lawyer can sometimes provide substantial benefits to aggrieved students and parents. The good lawyer not only looks for beneficial angles in the law, but also acts as a persuader who can separate emotions from the case. The good lawyer assures that all appropriate legal weapons and remedies are explored and utilized, and that the case is properly approached to give maximum power to each stage of the dispute.
In the court system, determination of fault is supposed to be done fairly, and punishments and remedies are not supposed to be imposed with disproportionate harshness. Our nation's professed goals of justice, fairness and due process ring rather hollow to students who witness unfair school administration treatment of themselves and their fellow students. To have a generation of students see basic fairness and rights thrown out the window is to have a generation that is less likely to be fair and just in later life when holding positions of authority and power.
When parents believe in their children's cause, the parents should rally to their children's side. The days are decades old when parents believed that teachers and schools can do no wrong. No institution or individual is immune from fault, and democratic action is needed to keep the schools and all public institutions effective, responsible and honest. The last thing a child needs when being treated unfairly is to be without parental support. Through speaking out for what is right, parents may find that they have more allies than was previously realized, including allies who were afraid to speak out until knowing there were like-minded people ready to raise their voices.
In the end, schools and teachers who treat students fairly and who give a good education should be praised. When schools and teachers fail, the problem needs to be fixed.
Bad school policies are not necessarily pursued by people intending bad. It is often well meaning people who unfairly step on people's rights on the way to an admirable goal. Good people who see injustice in progress must not stay silent, as silence is the voice of conspiracy.
Jon Katz, P.C. IN THE NEWS FOR RIGHTS OF STUDENTS AND FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
MAGAZINES, NEWSPAPERS, AND THE INTERNET
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Aug. 12, 2002) reports here that it referred partner Jon Katz to American University student Ben Wetmore, who was wrongfully and unfairly disciplined for taping an on-campus speech by Tipper Gore. Read more about the case at Jon Katz's article here. Read UPI's account here.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Jan. 29, 2002) reports that it turned to partner Jon Katz -- calling him "an eminent First Amendment lawyer" -- in response to Professor Sami Al-Arian's request for assistance in fighting the University of Florida's efforts to terminate him for exercising his First Amendment-protected rights. For further information on Dr. Al-Arian's case, see the FIRE's legal analysis and news release.
See Jon Katz's blog commentary: Students Suspended For Using Crushed Smarties In Anti-Drug Video.
This Article originally appeared in the former Multicultural News.com.
JON KATZ, P.C. - ADVOCATING FOR STUDENTS' AND ACADEMIC RIGHTS
JON KATZ, P.C., passionately fights for academic freedom, for students' rights in disciplinary proceedings, and against disproportionate student sanctions. JON KATZ, P.C., has championed academic justice at the public school and university levels, and will continue to do so. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has turned to partner Jon Katz for assistance with people facing threats to their academic freedom, and recognizes Jon as "an eminent First Amendment lawyer."
Heavily experienced in criminal defense, our law partner Jon Katz also defends students in adult and juvenile criminal court.
Jon Katz, P.C. strongly believes in charging a fair price for quality legal representation of students' and teachers' academic rights (click here). For assistance defending these rights, please contact partner Jon Katz.
For samples of Jon Katz, P.C.'s wins for justice, click here. (Each case is different (e.g., with a different set of facts, law, and adjudicators), and this listing is by no means meant to indicate the results JON KATZ, P.C., will obtain for future clients. Our goal, of course, is for winning advocacy at every turn).
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