These are judicial opinions, designated as landmark cases, deal with issues routinely encountered in education. It's imperative that Educational Administrators read the landmark cases and understand their importance to the field. This node string is only to suggest an approach to analyzing a landmark case.

First, note the name of the case eg.Plessy v. Ferguson. Next, notice the court that decided the case. This indicates the extent of the precedential authority of the opinion (e.g., United States Supreme Court, a State Supreme Court, or a Federal District Court. The year of the opinion is important because it gives an indication of the social and political climate in which the case was decided.

For most School Administrators, it's not necessary to memorize the specific facts of each case. Instead, read the landmark cases to develop an appreciation of what lawyers call the "fact pattern" or significance. Most importantly to be able to recognize a similar pattern of facts later in an actual case one may encounter in actuality. The general rule is that only issues of law, not issues of fact, can be raised on appeal.

Legal issues commonly raised in the landmark cases include denial of Fourteenth Amendment rights (due process and equal protection), the Establishment Clause, and application of First Amendment rights. The most important part of a landmark case is the court's ruling or "holding". Also of importance in the analysis of a landmark case is the court's reasoning or rationale for its holding. The court may decide the case based on its holding in a prior case (by following the principle of stare decisis) or the court may establish a new judicial precedent.

Landmark cases often contain concurring opinions usually written when a judge agrees with the holding of the majority opinion but wants to explain their reasoning in a separate opinion. Concurring opinions carry no precedential authority, but are frequently cited in later judicial opinions.

A dissenting opinion explains the reasoning of a judge who voted with the minority. Dissents are often strongly worded and critical of the majority opinion, however they carry no precedential authority. They give the thought process about the reasoning of the majority opinion. Like concurring opinions, dissents are frequently cited in later cases and note the court's attitude toward educational issues of that time.

This sample of important landmark cases were decided by the United States Supreme Court and contain a brief summary of issue, decision, and significance.


  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) -- Should blacks be allowed to ride in the same train cars as whites.
  • Cochran et. al. v. Louisiana State School Board of Education et. al. (1930) -- Is it constitutionally permissible for a state to provide free textbooks for children attending private schools.
  • West Virginia Board of Education et. al. v. Barnette (1943) -- Can a school compel a student to salute the flag when that practice violates their religious beliefs.
  • Everson v. Board of Education(1947) -- Does it violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment for a school board to reimburse parents of parochial students for money spent on transportation.
  • Norwalk Teachers' Association v. Board of Education(1951) -- Do teachers have the right to organize and/or strike. May the Board recognize the Association as the bargains agent? Are arbitration or mediation acceptable methods?
  • Brown v. Board of Education(1954) -- Are separate but equal schools constitutional.

  • Engel v. Vitale(1962) -- Does a daily recited prayer violate the First Amendment by establishing religion.
  • In re Gault (1967) -- What rights does the Constitution provide for minors
  • Tinker v. Des Moines School District(1969) -- Do students have a constitutional right to wear arm bands in school as a form of symbolic speech to protest the Vietnam War.
  • Goss v. Lopez (1975) -- Can schools suspend students without due process.
  • Baker V. Owen (1975) -- Can schools administer corporal punishment against parental wishes.
  • Ingraham v. Wright (1977) -- Does the paddling of a student violate the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) -- Can schools search students’ possessions.
  • Bethel v. Fraser (1986) -- Do the First and Fourteenth Amendments protect a student's right to deliver a vulgar and offensive speech at a school assembly, in violation of a school disciplinary rule.
  • Honig v. Doe(1988) -- Can a school district suspend a handicapped student from school indefinitely pending completion of expulsionary proceedings.

Source:

Corkill, Phillip. The Law and American Education. Tucson, Arizona. 1991 (Lecture presented at the Flowing Wells School District Administrative Office)

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