Posts tagged with "unconstitutional"

Religion in Schools: Does v. Enfield Public Schools

The separation of church and state has increasingly become a hotly debated issue in this country. In the context of schools, it has received the most attention from this country’s highest court. From school prayer to the observance of religious holidays, from textbook content to school vouchers, this area of school law has some degree of impact on nearly every aspect of a child’s educational experience.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Beginning in the 1960s, the Supreme Court of the United States began striking down state laws permitting (or even mandating) the recitation of Bible verses in school.[1] In Lemon v. Kurtzman,[2] the Supreme Court articulated a three-part analysis (the so-called Lemon test) to determine whether school (government) actions complied with the Establishment Clause’s constitutional requirements:

  1. The school action must have a secular, or non-religious, purpose.
  2. The primary effect of the action must neither advance nor inhibit religion.
  3. The action must avoid excessive entanglement of government with religion.

Thus, in the realm of education law, if an action taken by the school board does not comply with any one of these three prongs, it will violate the First Amendment.

To illustrate, the U.S. District Court in the District of Connecticut recently found that the Enfield Board of Education’s plans to hold the graduations for its two high schools at a Christian church were unconstitutional. In that case, despite the availability of comparable secular facilities, the board appeared to give in to “aggressive lobbying by a religious organization”[3] to hold the ceremonies at First Cathedral in Bloomfield. Although there were plans to cover or remove overtly religious symbols,[4] the school board played an active role in deciding what constituted a “religious image or message.”[5] In addition, there were several large crosses and images that could not be covered.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut filed a lawsuit on behalf of several non-Christian students, asserting that allowing the Enfield Board of Education to hold graduation at this location violated the Establishment Clause. In its Complaint, it stated:

[T]he location coerces students and parents to receive the overwhelming religious message of the Cathedral as the price of attending a seminal event in their lives; communicates a message of governmental favoritism of the Christian religion; entails the use of public funds to support religion-infused graduation; and excessively entangles the Schools with a religious institution.[6]

The District Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, which sought to prohibit the school from conducting the graduations at First Cathedral. It found:

[P]laintiffs have made a substantial showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that holding 2010 graduations at First Cathedral constitutes an impermissible endorsement of religion because it conveys the message that certain religious views are embraced by Enfield Schools, and others are not.[7]

The District Court’s decision was based on the character of the venue, noting various attributes of the facility (namely the crosses) and stating, “First Cathedral creates an environment… overwrought with religious symbols.”[8] The perception of a reasonable person attending graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral would leave them with the impression that “Enfield Schools… [are] closely linked with First Cathedral and its religious mission, that it favors the religious over the irreligious, and that it prefers Christians over those that subscribe to other faiths, or no faith at all.”[9] The District Court also extensively discussed the unique context and history of the board’s decision to hold the graduations at First Cathedral.[10]

Two years after the courts found against the Enfield school district, its board of education voted to accept a settlement of the lawsuit. “Under the terms of the settlement… [the plaintiffs’] legal fees would be partially reimbursed, and the town would agree not to hold its graduations at First Cathedral.”[11]

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced practitioners of school law and assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. Should you have any questions regarding religion in schools or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] See, e.g., Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962); Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).

[2] 403 U.S. 602 (1971).

[3] Complaint pp. 1, Does v. Enfield Board of Education (D. Conn. 2010). http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/2010-5-5-DoesvEnfield-Complaint.pdf

[4] Ruling Re: Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction pp. 15-16, Does v. Enfield Board of Education (D. Conn. 2010). http://www.acluct.org/downloads/Enfieldgraduationdecision.pdf

[5] Id. at 16.

[6] See Footnote 3, pp. 1-2.

[7] See Footnote 4, pp. 26.

[8] Id. at 30.

[9] Id. at 32.

[10] Id. at 32-38.

[11] “Enfield School Board OKs Settlement In Lawsuit Over Graduations Held At First Cathedral,” by Kristin Stoller. July 18, 2012: http://articles.courant.com/2012-07-18/community/hc-enfield-aclu-lawsuit-settlement-20120718_1_chairman-timothy-neville-peter-jonaitis-alex-luchenitser

Random Drug Testing of Middle School Students on the Rise

Mandatory drug testing has become commonplace wherever we look. “Olympic athletes must submit urine samples to prove they are not doping. The same is true for Tour de France cyclists, N.F.L. players, college athletes and even some high school athletes.”[1] A previous post on this website discusses in greater detail the permissible use of drug tests on students who wish to participate not only in sports but also any other extracurricular school activity. This type of search is subject to a reasonableness standard, though exceptions may apply irrespective of whether or not the school district suspects your child is abusing illicit drugs. [2]

This brings me to my question of the day: is it reasonable to ask a middle school child, who wants to participate in her school’s scrapbooking club, to pee in a cup?

School districts in at least nine States – Connecticut not included – have extended the use of random drug tests to include middle school students. Administrators cite surveys that show early use of drugs; one superintendent in Oregon explained, “The hope is, if you know you’re going to be tested, you just don’t start using. We’re trying to break the cycle before it starts.”[3] A member of the Student Drug-Testing Coalition stated:

It starts early with kids. You want to get in there and plant these seeds of what’s out there and do prevention early. The 11th and 12th graders, most of them have already made a choice. But the eighth graders, they’re still making decisions, and it helps if you give them that deterrent.[4]

Critics question the effectiveness of drug testing. “There’s little evidence these programs work. Drug testing has never been shown to have a deterrent effect,” noted Dr. Linn Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg’s 2007 study of athletes at eleven high schools, half of which with drug testing and the other half without, “found that athletes from the two groups did not differ in their recent use of drugs or alcohol.”[5] Furthermore, civil rights groups and parents argue that the drug tests violate students’ privacy rights, and depending upon relevant state law, courts appear more willing to issue injunctions or other orders halting policies that are deemed unconstitutional.[6] Thus, it will be particularly interesting to see how this line of cases – random drug testing in middle schools – proceeds in courts nationwide, and whether it will culminate into the next Vernonia[7] or Earls.[8]

Should you have any questions regarding drug testing in schools, school searches in general, or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “Middle Schools Add a Team Rule: Get a Drug Test,” by Mary Pilon. Published September 22, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/sports/even-some-middle-schools-now-test-for-drugs.html

[2] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 60.

[3] “Some Ore. schools test for drugs in middle school,” by the Associated Press. Published September 23, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Some-Ore-schools-test-for-drugs-in-middle-school-3887608.php

[4] See Footnote 1.

[5] Id.

[6] See, e.g., “Judge Stops Enforcement of School District’s Suspicionless Drug Testing Policy,” by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Published July 26, 2011. Accessed October 10, 2012: http://staging.aclupa.org/news/2011/07/26/judge-stops-enforcement-of-school-districts-suspicionless-drug-testing-policy

[7] Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995).

[8] Board of Education Independent School District No. 92 v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002).

Court Denies DUI Convict’s Request for Declaratory Judgment; License Suspensions Complied with Applicable Statutes

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut found in favor of the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) after the plaintiff unsuccessfully asserted his claims of equal protection and due process violations following his license suspensions.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. Police notified the DMV of the arrest, who held an administrative license suspension hearing. The hearing officer found that the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical alcohol test, among three other considerations, and pursuant to CGS § 14-227b(i), ordered that the plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for six months.

The plaintiff fully served this administrative suspension before pleading guilty to OMVUI. In connection with this criminal conviction, the DMV ordered that the plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for twelve months in accordance with CGS § 14-227a(g). Plaintiff’s counsel requested a “credit” of six months in light of the administrative suspension, but the DMV denied this request. DMV practice allows administrative and criminal suspensions to run concurrently for whatever period of overlap exists, as long as they arose from the same incident. However, it is not DMV policy to issue credits against new suspensions when prior ones have already been fully served.

The plaintiff sought declaratory judgment, arguing that the DMV’s actions were unconstitutional. He first alleged that the DMV policy violated equal protection because it “confers a benefit on those able to serve some or all of their suspensions concurrently, while denying that benefit to those who must serve them consecutively.” The plaintiff further contended that his procedural due process rights were violated because the DMV did not advise him of the practice, thus depriving him of being able to make an informed decision regarding when to plead guilty.

Equal protection directs that similarly situated people be treated alike. This clause is implicated when a statute “either on its face or in practice, treats persons standing in the same relation to it differently.” The threshold inquiry for a reviewing court is whether a petitioner is “similarly situated for purposes of the challenged government action.” However, the equal protection clause does not prohibit a government entity from treating those who are not similar in a dissimilar manner. In this case the Superior Court found that the plaintiff was similarly situated to drivers who have completed one suspension when the other is imposed, not drivers who were serving one suspension when subject to a second. Because the plaintiff failed to meet his burden proving dissimilar treatment, his equal protection claim failed.

To establish a due process violation, a plaintiff must prove “1) that he has been deprived of a property interest cognizable under the due process clause; and 2) that deprivation occurred without due process of law.” In this case, the Court readily agreed that deprivation of a driver’s license clearly satisfies the first prong, but the plaintiff’s claim failed with respect to the second element. The suspensions were imposed in accordance to guidelines set forth in CGS §§ 14-227a and 14-227b, and the plaintiff did not provide any support for “for the proposition that the [DMV] was obligated to give him notice of the [DMV’s] practice.” Therefore, the plaintiff’s due process claim also failed, and his request for declaratory judgment was denied.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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