While we often think of public education as being controlled locally, there is no doubt of the significant impact that the U.S. Supreme Court can have on your school district.

Think of Brown v. Board of Education, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and New Jersey v. T.L.O. All three were landmark decisions that influenced educational policies and practices across the country.

Brown v. Board of Education, arguably the most famous ruling of the 20th century, ended legally mandated race-segregated schools. The Tinker case established the principle that school officials may not censor student speech unless it causes a substantial disruption of school operations, while the New Jersey v. T.L.O. case, which began in the Piscataway school district, dealt with unwarranted searches and seizure of property. The decision established that while students are protected by the Fourth Amendment, public school authorities need only have reasonable suspicion to believe that the student has violated either the law or school rules (and not the more stringent standard, “probable cause”) to search.

This issue of School Leader magazine includes an article on two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that may affect boards of education and schools. The piece, by our own Kathryn Whalen, also serves to remind our members that this is one more way that the NJSBA serves all boards — by monitoring, analyzing and communicating important court decisions to local boards of education.

Just as our governmental relations staff members analyze and track all new legislation that could possibly affect local boards of education, the NJSBA’s legal team tracks decisions from the NJDOE’s School Ethics Commission, from the New Jersey commissioner of education, from state and federal courts — and yes, from the highest court in the land.

The NJSBA’s legal team, which currently includes Carl Tanksley Jr., Kathleen Asher, John Burns, Kathryn Whalen and Caitlin Pletcher, is a powerful resource for boards of education. In addition to tracking and analyzing recent legal decisions, writing amicus briefs to provide a voice for local boards in important court cases, and helping to lead the program NJSBA has for the state’s school law attorneys, the Associate Membership Program for School Attorneys, the team regularly conducts webinars and in-person training programs, and answers a steady stream of email and telephone questions that come in through NJSBA’s “Attorney of the Day” program.

Anyone who has attended the mandated Governance IV training — which reviews recent school law decisions — understands the importance of keeping up with the latest rulings from the bench. We can depend on the NJSBA legal team to do just that.