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Rant time — School edition

Other matters have interrupted blogging again. As a result, there are some pent up rants in need of release. This first post is school-related with more to follow.

  • What does the Argus Leader have against the Sioux Falls School District in the Wigg case? I’d link to today’s editorial lambasting the school district but evidently the Argus maintains its editorial page on the web about as well as its blog. Suffice it to say, the school district was accused of squandering money in litigating the issue of whether an elementary school teacher can participate in an after-school religious club for children held on school property.

    No doubt the Argus views this as a “free speech” or “free exercise” of religion case, in large part because the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said that “Wigg seeks nothing more than to be treated like other private citizens who are allowed access to Club meetings.” The problem is, she is not like other private citizens on school property.

    Wigg herself proves this point. Wigg says, “Every week, I tell [the children] I’m not there as third-grade teacher Mrs. Wigg.” Thus, the underlying message is not, “I am a private citizen,” it is “I am a school teacher,” increasing the odds that because the meeting is held on school property, the chances are greatly increased that the school district is viewed as sanctioning her message. That is inappropriate and wrong.

    I have no problem with allowing school facilities to be used for this type of function but this fails to maintain the requisite separation between the school and the religious activities. Moreover, the Argus needs to remember that the balance of the First Amendment is not held hostabe by the speech and press clauses. There is a significant provision called the Establishment Clause that is of equal importance.

    DISCLAIMER: I did not handle the case but our law firm represented the School District in the litigation. (Oh, I forgot. According to the standards of South Dakota’s right-wing bloggers, disclosing that to readers is unnecessary since I made my opinion obvious.)

  • The Sioux Falls School District is not immune from my ranting. My 8th grader recently brought home a piece of paper asking us to select what “track” she is going to be on in registering this January for high school. The tracks are:
    General Studies (“designed to prepare students for entry-level jobs and some technical programs”);

    Technical Schools and State Universities (“fulfills the minimum course requirements for admission to most highly technical fields of study at technical institutes [and] will meet entrance requirements for most South Dakota public universities”);

    Most Colleges and Universities (“fulfills the minimum course requirements for admission to most colleges and universities”); and,

    Highly Selective Universities (“fulfills the minimum course requirements for admission to most major universities and colleges”).

    The selection will determine what course registration information the student receives and appear on report cards and class schedules to “give you a reminder of the decision you made to strive for your best option in high school.” (The “Selection Guide” is available here as a Word document.)

    Setting aside the apparent classification of our state’s public universities as third tier educational institutions, this policy is ludicrous. There are a significant number of adults out there who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Why is the School District asking 8th graders make that decision? My 8th grader is taking advanced classes and wants to take AP courses and go to college. But I would still wager that most days she has a hard time deciding what she wants for lunch. I am not going to ask her to decide at age 13 where she’s going to be in five years or more, particularly when the first year or so of high school is so structured that there is little option for class selection.

    What really offends me is trying to slot kids on the “dumb shit” track before they enter high school. What about the kids who currently might think they only want to work right out of high shcool or are only interested in auto mechanics or drawing? Maybe an additional math, computer or science class might present them with the teacher or subject that intrigues them to the point they become an engineer or architect?

    An old saw says something about doing better when our reach exceeds our grasp. The School District should be encouraging students to strive more, not trying to slot them into the path of least resistance.

    And since the Argus has been so intent lately on school district issues, it seems discussion of this policy is worthy of a helluva lot more column inches then what’s going to be in the school vending machines.

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