Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has reluctantly weighed in on education. But when it has, its decisions need to be carefully scrutinized. Readers who follow education can recite past rulings, such as Brown v. Board of Education, for their far-reaching impact and media coverage. But there’s a far less known case that I believe can upend our views about education (“Is Education A Fundamental Right?” The New Yorker, Sep. 5).
I’m talking now about Plyler v. Doe, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1982. I believe it has the potential to make education a fundamental right for the first time in American history. It involved the decision by James Plyler, the superintendent of public schools in Tyler, Texas, to bar undocumented immigrants from school in his district. In his defense, Plyler was following state law, which allowed public schools to do so.
When fundamental rights are involved, the courts have held that a standard known as “strict scrutiny” be applied before they can be abridged. The question is whether education is such a right. The U.S. Constitution does not mention the right to an education. The closest was in 1787 when the Northwest Ordinance held that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
I’m not a lawyer, but I think that eventually Plyler v. Doe will become the basis for making education a fundamental right. At present, the door seems shut as a result of the high court’s ruling in 1973 in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. But the matter is far from settled.
(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)