School of Education: Legal Seminar Videos

Illegal Discrimination: Scenario 3 Discussion


Scenario #3 Discussion

Dr. Erma Jean Sims,
Sonoma State University

Let me share my response to these four questions on the religion scenario. Question number one: Are students allowed to pray at school? The answer to this question is yes. Students have a legal right to pray anytime they want to and as you know there are millions of prayers said each day every time an exam or test it passed out for students to take. So certainly, Lelia has the right to pray at school. Question number two: Should Ms. Hartless grant Lelia's request to pray inside the classroom at recess? This question is certainly a little bit more difficult. We know that the first amendment, free exercise clause gives Lelia the right to pray at school or anywhere else that she would like to. She has the right to exercise her First Amendment right to pray at school. However, when we look at the enabling clause of the First Amendment, we realize that there is a good possibility that the court would interpret Ms. Hartless's granting Lelia's right to pray in the classroom as enabling religion. The First Amendment enabling clause says that a school district or teacher cannot encourage or promote religion by enabling it in the classroom. My advice would be to avoid a problem with the First Amendment, to instruct Lelia that you would not be able to allow her to use the classroom at recess to pray. We also know that the prayer cannot interfere with educational instruction or any educational activity at school. An argument could be made that recess time does constitute an educational activity. Some of the research indicates that recess is a time when students have the opportunity to internalize the academic instruction during this time. Let's look now at question number three: Does calling a student a 'Terrorist' constitute illegal discrimination? Calling Lelia a terrorist does constitute illegal discrimination. Lelia has indicated to her teacher, Ms. Hartless, that at recess time she is consistently called a terrorist and bullied by the other students. This bullying is taken the form of shoving and pushing. So we know that calling her a terrorist certainly combined with the shoving and pushing constitutes illegal discrimination. As a teacher, it's important to know that the bullying, shoving and pushing can and may be viewed as an assault and battery on Lelia. Taken, as an assault and battery on Lelia would constitute a criminal offense, which Lelia and her parents could certainly pursue. Question number four: What responsibility does Ms.Hartless have to address the name-calling and bullying that Lelia has shared with her? Ms.Hartless has a responsibility as a classroom teacher to interrupt that kind of behavior. The name-calling of Lelia as a terrorist certainly is illegal discrimination. It's an excellent opportunity for a classroom teacher to teach about bullying. Both physical bullying which Lelia has experienced in the shoving and pushing and relational bullying, which allows students to ostracize, isolate another student. It's important for her to interrupt this kind of behavior by alerting students that it constitutes illegal discrimination of Lelia; and also to give the students an opportunity to learn more effective ways of handling their concerns about Lelia's religion and her practices of the Muslim religion at school.


CREDITS: Instruction and Content by Dr. Erma Jean Sims, Sonoma State University. Videography and Technical support by Mark Niemann, Sonoma State University