Archive for Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Local reaction to court action on education varies widely

July 2, 2002

Several U.S. Supreme Court and federal court decisions last week could cause sweeping changes in education.

On Thursday, the high court upheld by a 5-4 vote, the constitutionality of an Ohio school voucher program. Essentially, this ruling means that families can use state education funds to apply to private school tuition.

Also on Thursday, again in a 5-4 ruling, the court approved the constitutionality of random drug testing of public school students who participate in extracurricular activities.

And, in the federal courts, California judges ruled in a 2-1 decision to ban the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because the pledge includes the words "under God."

Of course, these rulings could eventually affect public schools nationwide.

Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson has long been a vocal opponent to the concept of vouchers.

"The state has a responsibility to fund public schools," he said. "We have an obligation to our students and our parents to provide the best educational opportunity for the students of Kansas."

In order to provide that educational system, Erickson said, funds are needed.

Shelly Gossett is administrator of Tonganoxie's private school, Genesis Christian Academy.

In August the 6-year-old school will have about 65 students in first through sixth grades, 21 students in kindergarten and 54 in preschool.

Gossett said she's unsure if the school's trustees would be in favor of accepting vouchers.

"We would be very cautious," Gossett said. "For the reason that you're still getting money from the government and does that mean that they will be coming in at some point and telling you that you can and cannot do something?"

This has long been a consideration of private schools, Gossett said.

"On the surface that sounds great," Gossett said. "As long as nobody comes in and tells you what to do and what to teach."

Tuition at Genesis is $2,170 for first through sixth grades and $1,525 for kindergarten. Tuition includes books, art and school supplies as well as a school T-shirt and sweatshirt. Students bring their own lunches.

If the school would in the future decide to accept vouchers, Gossett said it's likely the enrollment would mushroom.

"It would make a huge impact on our enrollment," Gossett said. "Because I do know that there are several families that would like to be here but financially they can't afford it."

Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, advocates the implementation of school vouchers.

"This is a win-win situation for kids, parents and schools," Lyon said in a written statement. "I have been in favor of school choice because parents should have the responsibility for deciding how and where their children will be educated."

Jean Rush, McLouth school superintendent, said random drug testing of students who participate in sports and extracurricular activities is a local issue.

"The supreme court ruled several years ago that they could do random drug tests on athletes," Rush said. "We don't do drug tests at this time I think that's a local decision that needs to be made in the community."

Basehor-Linwood superintendent Cal Cormack was unavailable for comment.

Tonganoxie superintendent Richard Erickson, who is a former high school and college athlete, said random drug testing is fair.

"I wouldn't have any problem personally as an athlete and as a participant for myself or for my kids," Erickson said.

"If we ask our participants in extracurricular activities to maintain a certain GPA and certain academic standards," Erickson said, "There should be a standard in athletes' and others' social behavior as well."

Lyon said he supports random drug testing, citing statistics stating that 54 percent of American high school seniors have used illegal drugs at least once.

An, on the federal court's ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance, Lyon said the decision is inappropriate.

"The 9th Circuit Court apparently would rather have us be more concerned with offending atheists than with offending God," Lyon wrote. "This is the same court that held that child pornography was protected by the same First Amendment."

Erickson said he hopes the federal court's ruling is overturned.

"I like the stance that Congress is taking right now in looking at passing a constitutional amendment so that it wouldn't allow the court to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance," Erickson said.

And as for private schools, such as Genesis Christian Academy, Shelly Gossett, said the pledge will go on.

"We say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in every class and we say it during chapel on Wednesdays, so it's not a legal issue to us," Gossett said. "We also say the pledge to the Christian flag and to the Bible."

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