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News Release, Charles County Public Schools
The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review an appeal by a former La Plata High School student, Caleigh Wood, asserting the school violated her First Amendment Rights.
The decision reaffirms a favorable U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling earlier this year that the school did not “impermissibly endorse any religion and did not compel Wood to profess any belief.” The Fourth Circuit’s decision rejected Wood’s claim that she was forced to embrace Islam during a world history class in October 2014. Wood has since graduated from Charles County Public Schools (CCPS).
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court’s decision not to review this supports the lower court ruling. We believe the Supreme Court’s action properly affirms the ability of public school educators to require students to complete assignments with which they may have personal disagreements as long as those assignments are reasonably related to a legitimate educational purpose,” said Andrew Scott, an attorney who represented CCPS and several of its administrators.
The court disagreed with Wood’s claim that the assignments promoted and endorsed Islam and noted in its opinion that the challenged materials constituted a small part of the school’s world history curriculum. “A reasonable observer, aware of the world history curriculum being taught, would not view the challenged materials as communicating a message of endorsement,” Judge Barbara Keenan wrote in the court’s final opinion.
“Our schools play an important role in ensuring that our children are provided with information that best prepares them to understand and thrive in a society with many different cultural and religious viewpoints. We present a curriculum with that goal in mind,” Superintendent Kimberly Hill said.
“School authorities, not the courts, are charged with the responsibility of deciding what speech is appropriate in the classroom. …Although schools are not ‘immune from the sweep of the First Amendment,’ academic freedom is itself a concern of that amendment. Such academic freedom would not long survive in an environment in which courts micromanage school curricula and parse singular statements made by teachers,” Keenan wrote.