Position Paper Topics



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GSE A-213: Schools and the Law

October 2008



Position Paper Topics



Assignment: Your final paper will be on one of several suggested controversial topics related to education law and public policy, or you may choose your own topic. The paper is intended to enable you to use legal research as an advocate for change and to strengthen your analytic skills and critical reasoning abilities. These skills should help you become more effective in understanding, interpreting, developing and improving educational/legal policies. The final paper will be 10-12 pages in length. Students also have the option of working in pairs to prepare a 18-20 page paper.
**Prospectus on Position Paper (3-4 pages) (due November 19th)

(a) Rationale. Identify the policymaker(s) to whom you will address your proposal and explain why the legal/educational controversy or topic is important. This may be an issue where you feel change is needed or where you feel a proposed change would be detrimental.

(b) Summarize 4-6 conflicting cases or articles that would include the strongest legal arguments supporting each side of the controversy and explain how they support each side.

(c)  Bibliography. Include a preliminary bibliography of relevant legal and educational journal articles or related research.  

(d) Classmate Editor. Identify a classmate who will edit and give you feedback on the first draft of your paper.
**Position Paper (10-12 pages) (attach Prospectus with comments) (due January 5th)

(a) Address your paper, including a one paragraph executive summary of your major recommendations, to a policymaker who can influence the outcome of the controversy – e.g., the Secretary/Commissioner of Education (federal or state), a state or federal legislator or legislative committee or a local or state school board.

(b) Present and support your position. In addition to presenting your legal arguments, include supporting educational, administrative, and policy perspectives based on legal and educational research and journal articles.

(c) Summarize the strongest legal and policy arguments against your position and how you would respond to them.

(d) Attach your Prospectus with comments.

Note: You are strongly encouraged to exchange drafts and seek editorial and substantive suggestions from classmates.  
Elements to consider:


  • What is the context in which you are working?

    • Are you analyzing a federal issue?

    • Are you analyzing a state issue?

    • Are you analyzing a local/school issue?

  • To whom is your paper addressed?

    • Federal: Senator/Representative, Secretary of Education

    • State: Governor, state legislature, state Commissioner of Education

    • Local: school board, principal

  • What is your broad topic?

    • See below for examples

  • What is your specific question?

    • See below for examples


Suggestions for broad topics and specific questions:
Civil Rights

  • What are the constitutional issues behind single-sex education, and how should Title IX operate [in whatever particular context you choose]?

  • What legal protections exist for gay and lesbian students, and what kind of policy should this [school, district, state] adopt to meet the needs of these students?

  • How have the Michigan decisions on affirmative action affected the affirmative action policy for students in this [school, district, state], and should this [school, district, state] change the policy?

  • What constitutional restrictions are there on affirmative action for teachers in this [school, district, state], and should this [school, district, state] change the policy?

School Choice



  • State X is thinking about adopting a school voucher program. What constitutional issues does it need to consider? What other legal/policy issues does it need to consider? How should it draft its legislation to account for these issues?

  • State Y is thinking about expanding its charter school program to allow [some controversial item in which you are interested: distance learning, home schools, etc.]. What legal issues does it need to consider? What policy issues does it need to consider? How should it draft its legislation to account for these issues?

First Amendment



  • What are the scope and limits of academic freedom, and how should they be applied [in whatever particular context you choose]?

  • What are the legal issues behind student hate speech in school and on student websites, and what kind of policy would be useful [in whatever particular context you choose]?

  • Can the [school, district, state] involve clergy in a post-tragedy rapid response team? What are the legal issues involved? What are the policy issues involved? How would you advise the [school, district, state] to draft its policy to account for these interests?

Private Schools



  • What legal restrictions are there on a private school to admit or expel a student for any reason? What policy should be put in place in [whatever context you choose] and why?

  • What legal restrictions are there on a private school to hire or fire a teacher for any reason? What policy should be put in place in [whatever context you choose] and why?

  • What obligations do private schools have to accommodate students based on their special needs – emotional, religious, learning disabilities, physical handicaps? How would you design a policy for your school in light of these obligations?

  • Your private school is considering getting involved in a voucher program. What legal issues should it be thinking about? How would you advise it to move forward?

School Finance



  • What laws or constitutional mandates guide the funding of schools in [district, state]? How would you advise [district, state] to allocate available resources, and what perils will officials face if they choose not to follow your advice?

  • Under applicable laws and constitutional mandates, can school X and school Y (or district X and district Y) operate with unequal levels of funding? What steps should be taken to equalize funding across [schools, districts]?

Special Education



  • What role does federal law play in disability rights in education? What concerns presented at the [school, district, state] level are not adequately reflected in the federal laws, and what should [school, district, state] officials do to address the disconnect?

  • Is it easier or more difficult today than it was five or ten years ago to “functionally exclude” students with disabilities from schooling? What [school, district, state] policies would you propose to build on or counteract recent legal developments?

  • Can schools exclude students with disabilities whose behavior is dangerous? How would you advise [school, district, state] officials to develop policy in this area, accounting for relevant legal issues?

  • How are disputes between parents and school officials over [placement, the “least restrictive environment,” “appropriateness”] resolved in [school, district, state]? How would you advise an official designing a system of dispute resolution to address these issues in [school, district, state]?

Teachers’ Rights and Responsibilities



  • If a teacher is fired in [school X, district X, state X] and applies for a position in [school Y, district Y, state Y], what communication is allowed/required between officials in the two [schools, districts, states]? How would you advise an official in X or Y to conduct himself/herself in this situation? What policies should be developed to guide officials facing these situations?

  • What are the duties of a teacher who supervises students on a school-sponsored field trip or community service learning course? How should [school, district, state] officials design a policy to guide teachers, accounting for relevant legal issues?


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