Corporal Punishment in Schools – Ingraham v. Wright (1977)

A Florida statute and Dade Country School Board policy provided for the punishment of students with one to five "licks" of a flat wooden paddle measuring less that two feet long, a few inches wide and half an inch thick.   During the 1970-1971 school year at Drew High School in Miami , after eighth grader James Ingraham was slow to respond to a teacher's instructions, he was given more than 20 blows while being held over a table.  He needed medical attention after the beating and missed 11 days of school.  Another Drew High School student, ninth grader Roosevelt Andrews, was hit on the arms after some minor infraction of the rules, and could not use one of his arms for a week. 

The students brought a lawsuit claiming that the paddling they received was a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  They lost in the lower courts and then appealed to the US Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court rejected the students' arguments.  The court maintained that there was "historical and contemporary approval of reasonable corporal punishment."  From the days of the American Revolution, moderate force had been used by teachers to discipline students.  The court pointed out that corporal punishment remained an accepted practice in most states  At the time the court issued its decision, in 1977, only two states ( Massachusetts and New Jersey ) had banned corporal punishment.  The court also maintained that the Eighth Amendment was intended to protect prisoners, not students in schools:  "The openness of the public school and its supervision by the community afford significant safeguards against the kinds of abuses from which the Eighth Amendment protects the prisoner."

Read the decision: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=430&invol=651


In October 2009 the US Supreme Court refused to review Frazier v. Smith involving a Florida law that required students to stand and participate in the Pledge of Allegiance unless they had a written excuse from a parent.  The law predated the 1943 Supreme Court ruling in Barnette v. West Virginia Board of Education that gave students the right to decide whether or not to participate in the Pledge.  A junior at Boynton Beach High School who filed suit after he was expelled from the room for refusing to stand and say the Pledge won in the federal district court which found the law to be unconstitutional.  The school appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which found that the student could not be required to stand for the Pledge.  However, the Court also ruled that the portion of the law requiring parents to give their written consent was a parents' rights matter and was constitutional. The ACLU had asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the state of Florida could "condition a student's decision, based upon his personal beliefs and convictions, to decline to recite the pledge of allegiance upon the advance, written consent of a parent."

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has jurisdiction in Alabama and Georgia, as well as Florida.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the arrest and strip-search of a Killian High School student for distributing an underground newspaper called First Amendment in her Miami-Dade County school. The paper violated the school's zero tolerance policy by including what were perceived to be threats against the school's principal.  The case arose in 1998 when nine Killian High School students were arrested, jailed overnight and later expelled for what they wrote in the pamphlet.  Hate crimes charges against them were later dropped.


In 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court ruling and upheld the decision of the Miami-Dade School Board to remove “A Visit to Cuba” and the entire 23-book series of which it was a part from its school libraries. About 50 copies of the book for elementary school students were already in the Miami-Dade schools when a parent sought to have them removed. The school board agreed with the parent that “A Visit to Cuba” offered too positive a view of life under the Castro regime and contained factual inaccuracies, and proposed over the wishes of the school superintendent to remove the books.


In February 2010, a federal judge ruled that a former principal at Penbroke Pines Charter High School did not have qualified immunity from a lawsuit brought by a student who had been punished for non-threatening online comments made about a teacher.  The student was a high school senior on the honor roll when she wrote at home on her Facebook page that the English teacher was the worst one she had ever had.  The page was only up for a few days, and two months after it had been taken down she was suspended for creating it. The case is expected to go to trial in the spring.   

After a student at Ponce de Leon High School in Ponce de Leon, Florida was prevented from wearing a handmade T-shirt that read “I support gays,” she sued the school for banning pro-gay symbols. In 2008 a federal judge ordered school officials to lift the ban and pay $325,000 in attorney’s fees.


Parents sued the St. Johns County School District’s Webster School for requiring their children to practice a religious song, “In God We Still Trust” for a performance at the end of the year assembly. They argued that the district was violating the students’ First Amendment rights by imposing sectarian religious ideas. In 2009, the federal district court agreed and barred the district from rehearsing or performing the song, noting that the song endorsed a specific religious viewpoint. The court distinguished it from two previous cases in which the performance of religious music was found to be constitutional, stating that “In God We Still Trust” is not a “sacred example of choral music used to instruct students in music theory and appreciation” and that it “antagonizes and degrades those whose beliefs differ from the one espoused by its lyrics.” Therefore, the use of the song in a public school violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

In 2007 a federal court upheld Vera High School’s dress policy prohibiting students from wearing jewelry in piercings other than in their ears. The case involved a tenth grader who wore jewelry in face and chest piercings. She was told by an administrator that she could wear clear plastic jewelry in the piercings but went back to metal jewelry after her piercings got infected. She was the told to remove the jewelry or face discipline. The court recognized that the jewelry was a way of communicating non-conformity, but agreed with the school that it could pose a safety concern and interfere with the school’s interest in promoting an efficient educational environment.

A federal judge ruled in June 2006 that a Boynton Beach High School junior could not be disciplined for failing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and that a student does not have to get a parent's permission in order to be excused from reciting the Pledge.  The lawsuit challenged a Florida law that said the Pledge had to be recited at the beginning of the day in all public schools. 
In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit struck down part of a Florida statute requiring students to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. However, the court upheld that part of the law that required students to get parental permission to be excused from participating in the Pledge.


In 2009 the ACLU brought a lawsuit against Nassau County Public Schools on behalf of two Yulee High School students who were prohibited from forming a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). A federal district court then granted a preliminary injunction barring the school from denying the GSA equal access to school facilities, treatment and recognition.