Education is among the most important elements of our culture. It is always a hot button item for political candidates to discuss – in the 2012 Presidential Election, education was a top tier election issue in swing states. Parents want to know that their children are going to the best schools and are being taught by the most capable teachers. But beyond that, parents are becoming more involved in areas such as student discipline, school board decisions, school district rezoning, and other matters affecting the education system.
Mark Hayes, a Durham-based appellate attorney, has handled a number of cases in school settings. A case may begin as an internal matter and then balloon into a court case. For example, delinquency cases may turn on where the line between behavior requiring school discipline and behavior requiring a juvenile court hearing should fall. Juvenile court, which hears matters involving children between six and fifteen years old, has seen an influx of cases in recent years. According to the Annual Report for the North Carolina Division of Juvenile Justice, nearly 36,000 North Carolina juvenile delinquency cases were heard in 2011 alone. “That number is staggering. There simply has to be more that schools can be doing internally regarding student discipline,” said Hayes.
Similarly, concerned parents may challenge school policies in court after unsatisfactory responses from the administration and school board. For example, in Wake Cares, Inc. v. Wake County Bd. of Educ., a case initiated in 2007, a group of parents challenged the school board’s decision to convert several schools in the county to a year-long academic calendar. Eventually, the case was appealed all the way up to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the school board’s decision. The parents demonstrated a willingness and desire to be heard in decisions affecting the education system.