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.
Charles County Public Schools provides 27,500 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 37 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.