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Laws Relating To Public Schools

( Originally Published 1918 )

Following is a careful digest of the laws governing the rights and duties of directors, teachers, pupils and parents.

School Management.—In most of the states the management of the public or common schools is placed by statute under the exclusive control of directors, trustees, committees, or boards of education.

District and Township Unit Systems.-The schools are generally organized under either the district system or the township unit system.

School Districts.—Where the district system prevails, the town or township is divided into school districts, each one of which is a body corporate and politic for school purposes. Each district manages its own school or schools through a board of directors or trustees chosen by the legal electors.

Under the township unit system the town or township is a body corporate and politic for school purposes and the management of the schools is put into the hands of some township authority for that purpose.

State and County Superintendence.—In every State there is an executive officer, generally called the superintendent of public schools or public instruction, whose duties are prescribed by the school laws of the state.

Most of the States also provide for county superintendents of schools, who usually are elected by the people, but in some states by the county board, composed of the school directors of the county.

School Books and Course of Instruction.—Where the management has thus been placed under the exclusive control of the directors, they have the right to determine what books shall be used and what instruction shall be given in the schools, except as the same is governed by statute.

Separate Schools.—Where the legislature of a state confers upon boards of education the power to establish separate schools for white and colored children, this may be done without violating the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States. And where under such statutory provisions appropriate schools for colored children are maintained, such children may be lawfully excluded from schools established for white children.

In Pennsylvania, however, under mandamus proceedings, a negro who has been assigned to a school for colored children, was admitted to a school established for the separate instruction of white children.

But unless expressly conferred by statute upon boards of education, the power to establish separate schools does not exist.

The courts will compel the trustees to admit colored children to the public schools where separate schools are not provided for them.

Employment of Teachers.—By a statute in all the states the authority to employ teachers for the public schools is conferred upon school boards, directors, trustees, and committees.

Certificates of mental and moral qualifications are required of teachers in most of the states.

In some states these certificates are given by a board of examiners and in others by the county superintendent of schools.

Tenures and Salaries.—As a general rule teach-ers are employed for a year only at a time, but sometimes the teacher is first selected for one year, then, if re-elected, for two years, then for four, and so on. This is the practice in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Salary.—In many states the salary of a public school teacher is not attachable by trustee process while in the hands of officials whose duty it is to pay it, but in most New England states it is attachable.

Terminating Teachers' Contract.—School di-rectors cannot terminate a contract with a teacher by doing away with the particular school in which he or she is engaged in teaching.

Dismissal of Teachers.—In the absence of agreement or statutory provision to the contrary, no teacher engaged for a certain term and holding a proper certificate can be dismissed without sufficient cause. Unfaithfulness, incompetency, and inability to properly govern the school, are held to be, either separately or combined, sufficient cause for dismissal.

If dismissed without sufficient cause, the teacher's remedy is the same as for breach of any other contract.

In many states there are statutory provisions giving more or less broad discretionary powers to the school board or other officials as to the dis-missal of teachers. In Massachusetts this power seems to be absolute, to dismiss without assigning any cause, and the teacher cannot recover compensation for teaching thereafter.

Janitor Work cannot be required of a teacher, unless it is so specified in the contract.

Closing School.—When the school is closed by the district officers on account of the prevalence of a contagious disease, and the teacher stands ready to perform his contract, he is entitled to full salary during the time school is closed.

A statute in Pennsylvania providing that a school shall remain open on legal holidays precludes payment of compensation for teaching on those days.

Legal Holidays.—It has been held by the courts that in the absence of statutory requisitions a school should be allowed the legal holidays with-out 'deduction of salary to the teachers.

Expulsion, Etc.—School directors may expel or suspend teachers for sufficient cause, and teach-ers in turn may suspend pupils for sufficient cause, as for breach of discipline, refusal to take part in exercises, refusal on the part of the parents to sign and return the regular periodical written reports of the pupil's standing or for the father's refusal to permit the teacher to whip the child or to correct or punish the child him-self; for refusal to study certain branches from which the parents of the child have requested that it might be excused, or misbehavior outside of the school tending to injure the school and subvert the teacher's authority.

Sometimes it has been held that, before the pupil can be expelled, he is entitled to a hearing if he asks for it, but on this there is no settled rule. In most of the large cities a parent has the right to take a case of expulsion up to the board of education, but this is seldom done.

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