In a case that caught the attention of the national media, including The Daily Show on Comedy Central, a Rhode Island federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by high school students who argued that Rhode Island failed to provide them with necessary civics-related skills to participate in a democracy. Although the judge rejected the argument that the students would be unable to fulfill their obligations as citizens due to a lack of civics education, he encouraged the state to re-evaluate its current civics education, stating, “This is what it all comes down to: We may choose to survive as a country by respecting our Constitution, the laws and norms of political and civic behavior, and by educating our children on civics, the rule of law, and what it really means to be an American, and what America means. Or, we may ignore these things at our and their peril.”
The Rhode Island decision was based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which is that education is not a fundamental right under the Constitution. Despite the Supreme Court precedent, this issue of a fundamental right to education continues to be litigated. For example, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of Detroit students’ right to “a basic minimum education” under the Constitution, but that panel’s decision was vacated by the full panel of the Sixth Circuit.
We will continue to monitor whether the students will pursue an appeal in this case. Contact an attorney in our Students/Special Education practice group with questions. Although the chance of success of this litigation is low, the debate will continue over what an appropriate education is and how should schools should provide it.