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I Wasn’t Trained For This…

I have enjoyed perusing the various Edjurist blogs and, for that reason, I am slightly awed by my affiliation with such a prestigious group of legal scholars. However, I will do my best to add to the various micro and macro discussions on school law topics. 

I strive to keep channels of communication open between former students and myself, especially as they enter into formal leadership positions, since this conduit proves a valuable gauge of current legal issues. One student, currently in his first year as an administration – he was hired as a middle school principal, had questions surrounding his work with a struggling teacher. At the end of our conversation he mentioned, almost in passing, that he appreciated all that he learned in school law but nothing done in that course prepared him for the myriad of issues he has faced in the first few months as principal in the arena of family law.

I asked him to document these experiences and here is a brief synopsis of some of the challenges this first year principal has faced:

  • There is a pending divorce between the parents of one student. The student is struggling with attendance issues, to the point that a judge has ordered her to return to school. Mother claims daughter is afraid of father and both parents request notification of any absences or early releases for the daughter.
  • A student’s mother died a number of years ago in a car accident. Since that time the student has lived with his maternal grandparents. His biological father was completely absent so the custodians of this minor were only able to obtain temporary legal rights related to his care. The biological father has recently returned to the area. There is a pending custodial hearing, but the biological father took the student into his custody and transferred him to a different school.
  • Two siblings are caught in the middle of grandparents fighting for custodial rights since the parents recently died. The attendance secretary is asked to testify in a custody hearing about the attendance patterns of the students when they stay with each set of grandparents.
  • A mother and a stepmother, both of who have legal access to the educational information related to a student, have restraining orders against one another. The restraining orders dictate that the two are not to know the home address of the other person and, yet, the student lives with one of the two ladies.

I do not address family law issues directly when teaching school law, but perhaps I need to do so. However, at what expense? There is only so much time in a semester and school law is littered with essential topics. This conundrum is at the heart of Levine’s 2005 scathing commentary on the declining quality of educational leadership programs – do those engaged in preparing educational leaders structure programs that are financially viable (reduce the number of credits required for graduation and consolidate curricula) or create comprehensive educational experiences that genuinely empower graduates to become educational leaders? The answer for too many educational leadership programs is more along the lines of the former option.

I could justify my efforts in school law by stressing that a graduate of an educational leadership program qualifies for a principal license, which signifies nothing more than an entry-level skillset (Adams & Copland, 2007, p. 160). Clearly, the process of developing effective school leaders must be continued by school districts in the form of induction and mentoring programs. Perhaps the family law issues enumerated above are of a unique nature that any principal would seek direction from central office personnel. And yet, I am left wondering and I will definitely revisit the importance of family law issues the next time I teach school law.