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The United States guarantees all children the right to a free and appropriate public education. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees children the right to freedom of speech in schools. (Educators can, however, ban speech that is lewd, vulgar, indecent.)

Federal Laws

The goal of The No Child Left Behind Act is that all children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. States set their own standards at each grade level, and schools not meeting the standards will be held accountable (accountability standards apply only to Title I schools). Congress has since recognized the need for changes in this Act to help students for whom English is a second language.

The Equal Education Opportunities Act (EEOA) prohibits states from denying equal educational opportunities to a child because of race, national origin, race, color or sex.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was designed to meet the educational needs of children with unique physical or mental needs and to prepare them for employment and independent living. States receive funding from the federal government to implement IDEA. The Act enables local authorities to develop an IEP (an Individual Education Program) for such children. Parents who become dissatisfied with the IEP may lodge a complaint, proceed to a hearing, which may escalate to filing a civil action in federal court if the parties are unhappy with resolution of the issues at the hearing.

State and Local Regulations

Aside from these federal statutes governing specific rights, most of education law regulating activities and people in schools is handled on a per-state basis. For example, matters of school violence, accidents, security, and discipline of students are local-authority decisions. Two hot topics in today's schools and parent-board meetings are the permissibility of drug testing and searching students (and their lockers) for disallowed items. Such civil rights are actually covered under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides that such actions must be based on a “reasonable suspicion.” However, “probable cause,” also a provision of the law is not necessary for in-school searches of students or their lockers.
Typically, a state board of education oversees the education goals and responsibilities of the state. States are required to ensure that every child receives an adequate education.

States also regulate private education institutions, such as charter schools and religious academies. Consult the Department of Education in your state for specific information on these opportunities. Qualifications and certification of teachers, as well as setting educators' codes of ethics, are matters regulated by state law.

By Kathleen Goolsby           

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