N.C. Court Rules in Alternative Education Matter

The North Carolina Supreme Court in October held that school officials’ decisions to deny disciplined students access to alternative education programs were subject to “intermediate scrutiny.” In so doing, it reversed a lower court decision granting, as NASW put in an amicus brief, “largely unfettered discretion” to exclude students from the classroom.

The case, King v. Beaufort County Board of Education, stems from an incident in which students who participated in a January 2008 fight at Southside High School in Chocowinity, N.C., were suspended for the remainder of the school year without access to alternative education programs.

In its ruling, however, the court held that while the school board is required to provide a valid reason for refusing alternative education to the plaintiff, students who violate lawful school rules do not have a constitutional right to an alternative education.

NASW disagrees. In its amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court, the association said the use of exclusionary discipline measures strips students’ fundamental right, afforded by the state constitution, to a sound basic education.

“There is ample evidence that schools across North Carolina over-rely upon exclusionary discipline practices that undermine students’ educational opportunities, put them at greater risk for involvement with the juvenile or criminal justice systems, and yet fail to demonstrate improvements in school safety or the quality of the learning environment,” the brief said.

Still, NASW was pleased with the ruling. “[S]chool administrators can no longer arbitrarily deny a student’s access to alternative education without being in violation of the state constitution,” the association said in a press release.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower courts for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Proposition 8 appeal: In an amicus brief dated Oct. 25, NASW and the California Chapter urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to affirm a lower court ruling that found Proposition 8 — the 2008 voter-approved amendment to California’s Constitution limiting marriage to heterosexual couples — to be unconstitutional. The case is Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

NASW’s brief leads off by noting that the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Proposition 8 violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Having weighed the evidence, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled last summer: “Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”

“The District Court’s ruling was properly based on scientific conclusions drawn from decades of rigorous empirical research,” the amicus brief asserts.

Oral arguments before the appeals court were held Dec. 6.

Arizona immigration law: NASW also joined Legal Momentum, a prominent women’s legal advocacy group, and several other organizations in urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold a preliminary injunction enjoining the state of Arizona from enforcing its now infamous immigration law, SB 1070, insisting that it would cause irreparable harm to immigrant women and their children.

Federal law affords immigrant women and children, regardless of their legal status, various protections and assistance they otherwise might not seek for fear of detention or deportation.

NASW argues that SB 1070 usurps federal law. The amicus brief filed with the court noted that since passage of SB 1070 and even before it was scheduled to take effect, “federally funded battered women’s shelters [in Arizona] saw the number of immigrants accessing these essential life-saving and injury-prevention services plummet because victims fear detention and permanent separation from their children if they seek help.”

The brief continues: “Similarly, immigrant women face these fears when dropping their children off at child care, going to work, and seeking health and other services for themselves and their children.”

A hearing took place Nov. 1, but a decision had not been reached as of this story’s deadline.

Victim-advocate privilege: NASW and the Indiana Chapter are urging that state’s highest court to reverse a lower court ruling that would compel social workers to reveal confidential records of victimized clients in criminal proceedings involving the alleged perpetrator. The case is In Re Subpoena to Crisis Connection, Inc. vs. Ronald Keith Fromme.

Attorneys for Fromme, who is accused of felony child molesting, have subpoenaed the records of his alleged victims who sought the services of Crisis Connection Inc., an organization that employs clinical social workers who provide counseling to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The organization seeks to avoid producing the records, asserting that they are privileged under Indiana’s victim-advocate privilege statute.

In its amicus brief, NASW asked the Indiana Supreme Court to interpret the state’s law concerning privileged information as “absolute, or at a minimum, that the burden to seek such information is high and must be met by the requesting party.”

NASW members can read these and other amicus briefs filed by the NASW Legal Defense Fund on the Amicus Brief Database page.