Online Degrees Blog Educational administration and legal issues

Educational administration and legal issues

23 April
Group of Educational Law Books siting in front of a sunset.

Educational administrators must navigate a myriad of legal considerations in their daily decision-making and leadership practices. From ensuring compliance with education laws and regulations to addressing legal risks and liabilities, educational administrators play a critical role in promoting legal compliance, safeguarding students' rights, and maintaining the integrity of educational programs and services.

In this blog, we will explore the legal landscape in education and how it affects educational administration.

The crucial role of educational administrators

Educational administrators do much more than administrative tasks. They shape the direction, effectiveness, and success of educational institutions at all levels, from preschools to universities. Their responsibilities encompass a wide range of managerial, leadership, and administrative functions that are essential for the smooth operation and continuous improvement of educational programs and services.

Charting a course for community and school success

Educational administrators provide leadership and strategic direction for their institutions. They develop and articulate a clear vision that aligns with educational standards and the needs of the community. They handle issues like low budgets, large student-teacher ratios, and student poverty. They provide solutions that will lead to positive change and growth, which include implementing school policies, integrating new curricula, and allocating resources.1

Cultivating a culture of collaboration and growth that helps support teachers and the community

Educational administrators foster a positive organizational culture and climate that supports teaching, learning, and professional growth. They promote collaboration, communication, and teamwork among faculty, staff, students, and parents, creating a sense of belonging and shared purpose within the educational community.1

Ensuring legal compliance for student well-being

Educational administrators are responsible for ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements at the local, state, and federal levels while meeting the needs of students and educators. These requirements apply to the school facilities, curricula, instruction, and overall environment. Administrators ensure classrooms are clean and safe for students and teachers. They are responsible for hiring qualified teachers and for making sure students receive an education that follows the appropriate standards.2

KU Course Connection: ELPS 752: Education Law

The Education Law course surveys the wide variety of legal questions and problems that relate to educational policy and practice. Education law is a complex topic that encompasses law related to school finance, rights of teachers, and implications of these on students. The course prepares school administrators and other educators to perform their duties in accordance with state and federal law and with respect for the legal rights of students, teachers, parents, and patrons. It is also appropriate for law students with an interest in the topic.

Legal foundations of education

The legal foundations of education provide the framework for ensuring that all students have access to quality education and that educational institutions operate within legal boundaries. At the core of these foundations is the constitutional framework for education, which varies from country to country.

Federal level

In the United States, the Constitution does not explicitly mention education. The 10th Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the federal government to the states, including the authority over education.3

Federal laws still significantly govern education by establishing standards, regulations, and funding mechanisms for educational institutions. In the United States, federal laws provide funding and guidelines for K-12 education. One of these laws is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which “makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.”4

Court decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, have shaped constitutional interpretations related to education, particularly regarding issues of segregation and equal educational opportunities. However, there is no federal right to education. The court decisions and policies that have positively impacted education have led us more to an idea that all children have the right to an equal education regardless of race, income, location, etc., guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.3

State level

The regulation of education is largely left up to state and local governments. State laws vary widely but often address issues such as curriculum standards, teacher certification, and school funding. Recently, states have passed various laws regarding cultural and societal issues. These laws have been made to dictate what teachers can say and teach and many of them involve race and gender.5

Key legal issues in educational administration

Educational administrators face a variety of legal issues that shape their decision-making and management practices within educational institutions. Key legal issues in educational administration include:

  • Student rights and discipline: Educational administrators must navigate legal considerations related to student rights, such as freedom of speech, privacy, and due process. They are responsible for implementing disciplinary policies and procedures that adhere to legal standards while ensuring a safe and supportive learning environment for all students6
  • Special education and IDEA compliance: Administrators must ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other laws governing special education services. This includes providing appropriate accommodations, services, and support to students with disabilities,4 as well as ensuring the development and implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in accordance with legal requirements
  • Teacher employment and labor laws: Educational administrators must adhere to federal and state labor laws governing teacher employment, including hiring practices, contracts, tenure, and dismissal procedures. They are responsible for ensuring compliance with laws related to wages, working conditions, and employee rights7
  • School finance and funding: Public school districts receive funding from local, state, and federal governments through taxes, grant programs, and other means. Administrators are responsible for equitable distribution of resources, compliance with funding formulas and regulations, and budgetary constraints. They must be transparent in financial management and reporting8
  • Bullying and harassment policies: Administrators are responsible for implementing and enforcing policies and procedures to address bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools. They must comply with federal and state laws, such as Title IX and state anti-bullying statutes, to ensure a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students9

Empowering high school students: Advocacy and support

High school students occupy a unique position within the public school system, facing a variety of challenges and opportunities as they pursue their education and prepare for the future. Educational administrators, including school principals and school officials, play a crucial role in ensuring that high school students receive the support and resources they need to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

One important aspect of supporting high school students involves understanding and addressing the ethical and legal issues that affect their educational experience. This includes safeguarding student's constitutional rights, promoting academic freedom, and upholding principles of ethical decision-making within the school environment. Educational administrators must navigate complex legal frameworks, such as the Student Succeeds Act and state regulations, to create inclusive and equitable learning environments that foster student achievement and school success.

Furthermore, school districts and educational organizations have a responsibility to advocate for policies and practices that prioritize the needs of high school students. This may involve collaborating with school boards and community stakeholders to address issues such as school safety, bullying prevention, and access to extracurricular activities. By championing the rights and well-being of high school students, educational administrators contribute to the overall success and vitality of the educational system.

Future trends and evolving legal issues

Educational policies significantly influence the practices and operations of schools, shaping various aspects of teaching, learning, and school administration. As education continues to evolve, several future trends and emerging legal issues are expected to shape the landscape of education law.

For instance, in early 2020, the global education landscape experienced a seismic shift due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the widespread adoption of distance learning as schools grappled with unprecedented challenges.

This rapid integration of technology to facilitate student-teacher connectivity during the crisis merely expedited existing trends in educational technology. Significant investments have been made in recent years, totaling billions of dollars, to modernize classrooms with advanced educational technology.

Curriculum and civil rights

Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in schools may lead to legal debates and disputes over affirmative action policies, transgender rights, religious freedoms, and other civil rights issues. States have always had more power over schools, but it wasn’t until recently we saw mass use of this power. States are enforcing laws regarding banned books, lessons on race and gender, and the rights of certain students.

These laws bring into question violations of civil rights and freedom of speech and how these rights extend to students but not teachers. Moral, societal, and cultural issues have seemed to leak into education and “at least 64 laws have passed in half the country reshaping what students can learn and do at school, restricting what teachers can say about race, American history, and/or constrain lessons on gender identity, sexuality and LGBTQ issues.”10

Several lawsuits throughout the country have been filed on behalf of teachers, school districts, and parents regarding these new policies in schools. For the most part, states and local governments have the final say in the policies they decide to integrate into their schools, but those policies still need to comply with the U.S. Constitution. How these lawsuits are ruled will be a real testament to the future of education.

Using emerging technology to enhance educational experiences

Another area of growing concern is technology in education. As technology continues to play an increasingly prominent role in education, there is growing concern that these implementations are going too fast, and security and privacy measures are being overlooked.11 While technology can enhance lessons and be a vital resource in education, educators can face a range of legal issues related to technology integration, data privacy, intellectual property rights, and digital citizenship.

Ensuring compliance with laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is essential for protecting students’ personal information and maintaining data security in educational settings. There are some exceptions to FERPA that allow teachers to use technology without parental permission. The technology must have “a legitimate educational interest and limits the resharing of information.”12 AI tools might not fall under the FERPA exception, and schools need to do extensive research before exposing students to these tools. Even if the school deems a tool is safe to use, they must get parental permission.12

The role of the National Education Association

The National Education Association (NEA) plays a pivotal role in advocating for the rights and interests of educators across the United States. As the largest professional organization representing educators, the NEA is committed to promoting the welfare of teachers, advancing the quality of education, and advocating for policies that benefit both educators and students.

Through its advocacy efforts, the NEA influences education policy at the national level, working to ensure equitable access to quality education for all students. By supporting ongoing professional learning, advocating for fair and ethical practices, and championing the well-being of educators, the NEA contributes significantly to the improvement of the public school system and the enhancement of student learning outcomes.

Empowering educational administrators through ongoing professional learning and professional development

Ongoing professional learning and development are essential for educational administrators to stay abreast of emerging trends, best practices, and legal requirements in the field of education.

As stewards of the school environment, administrators must continually refine their skills, deepen their knowledge, and engage in ethical decision-making to effectively lead their school districts and foster a supportive school culture. Through participation in educator preparation programs, workshops, seminars, and conferences, administrators can enhance their leadership abilities, improve student outcomes, and create a positive school environment conducive to student success.

In the end, by prioritizing ongoing professional learning and development, educational administrators can help cultivate a culture of excellence, empower school personnel, and ensure that ethical and legal issues are addressed proactively within the school community.

Unlock your full potential in educational leadership

Ready to make a difference in education through a better understanding of the complex world of education and legal issues? Don't wait to apply to the comprehensive online master's program in educational administration at the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences for your opportunity to excel.

KU's program helps those who want to make a difference gain the expertise and skills needed to lead with confidence and address critical issues facing educational administrators today.

Connect with a KU admissions outreach advisor now to explore your options and take the first step toward becoming an educational administration leader.