11 Bonus Chapter: Legal Issues in Teaching

Guiding Questions for Bonus Chapter

  1. What are the sources of laws, policies, and regulations that govern public schools and teachers?


Teachers and students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression (or other constitutional rights) at the schoolhouse gate.” Most of the laws, policies, and regulations that apply in your everyday life also apply in your role as a teacher. The school, however, is a special place with a unique mission. So, the law protects and limits teachers and students— especially in public schools—a little differently. In this chapter, you will learn about the sources of education law, common legal issues that teachers confront, and a few Supreme Court cases that exemplify legal reasoning in the public schools.

Legal Issues in Teaching

Teachers, like other people, are governed by a variety of laws, policies, and regulations. In this chapter, we want to become familiar with the ways in which the law regulates and protects you as a teacher.

Preliminary Issues

The sources and issues of education law differ for teachers at public and private schools. Our constitutions—both federal and state—are designed to limit and and empower the government. In a public school, a teacher is considered an actor of the government. As a government actor, the federal and state constitutions apply to you. So, for example, a public school teacher is constitutionally prohibited from inviting a student to attend church (that would be a violation of  the Establishment  Clause of the First Amendment); a private school teacher is not.

Another preliminary note important for teachers to consider is that law not only limits and regulates your actions as a teacher, it also protects and empowers you as a teacher.

Teachers retain their rights as citizens in a public school environment, but those rights are altered. Public school teachers enjoy, for example, the right to freedom of expression, but they cannot promote a personal political agenda in the classroom. Teachers also enjoy freedom of association,privacy, and a limited right to academic freedom.

Finally, teachers not only need to be aware of how the law affects them, they also need to know how the law impacts their students.

Sources of Education Law

The article below is a great place to start exploring the laws, regulations, and policies that govern you as a teacher.

Read: Stader, DavidL., ThomasJ. Graca, and DavidW. Stevens. 2010. “Teachers and the Law: Evolving Legal Issues.” Clearing House 83 (3): 73–75.

  • Federal and State Constitutional Law
  • Federal and State Statutory Law
  • Federal and State Regulations
  • School Board Policy
  • Case Law

Common Legal Issues for Teachers

The article below describes the most common legal issues that teachers confront and those that should be a part of teacher preparation.

Read: Eckes, Suzanne E. 2008. “Significant Legal Issues for Inclusion in Preservice Teacher Preparation.” Action in Teacher Education (Association of Teacher Educators) 30 (2): 25–35.

  • Student Issues
    • Student Expression
    • Religion in the Schools
  • Employment Issues
  • Teacher Dismissal
  • Teacher Expression
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Collective Bargaining
  • Other Legal Issues
    • Special Education
    • Teacher Liability
    • Harassment/Abuse
    • Student Discipline
    • Instructional Issues

Common Legal Issues for Teachers

Read: Umpstead, Regina, Matthew Militello, and Suzanne E. Eckes. “Legal Literacy: Tools to Avoid Litigation in Your School.” Principal Leadership 16, no. 6 (02, 2016): 56-58.


Bong Hits 4 Jesus: An Example Case

Read: Zirkel, Perry A. 2007. “Bong Hits?” Phi Delta Kappan 89 (2): 158–59.

Do you agree or disagree with the Court’s ruling?

Your Turn

T.L.O. was a high school student. School officials searched her purse suspecting she had cigarettes. The officials discovered cigarettes in the outside pocket of her backpack. They continued to search and found a small amount of marijuana, and a list containing the names of students who owed T.L.O. money. T.L.O. was charged with possession of marijuana.

Was the search consistent with the Constitution?




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Core Teaching Skills Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Vontz and Lori Goodson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book