As a leader with decision-making capacity, my biggest takeaways from this class are…

I struggled to pinpoint “biggest takeaways” for this course. I am still reflecting on much of the content. As a leader with decision-making capacity, the overarching takeaway from this class is that I need to be proactively mindful of the legal ramifications of any decisions I make with regard to the organizations and people I serve. Prior to this course, my thinking about education and the law centered on social justice issues – the school to prison pipeline, disproportionate disciplinary actions, and underfunded urban school districts. Student rights within the public schools outside of rights specifically related to education did not even occur to me.

There are specific takeaways that are relevant to my role as a school administrator in a faith-based private school. First, I need to learn more about the federal and state laws that govern our educational practice. The majority of the cases we discussed in class centered on the public school context. Granted, the constitutional issues based on the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1972 are still relevant to the school I serve. However, Title IX doesn’t apply because our school receives no federal funding. My public school cohorts were able to share their school district policies on free speech, freedom of religion, and Title IX. I had no frame of reference for any of it, due in large part to my brief tenure thus far.

My second biggest takeaway is that I have to consider my role in proactively protecting the rights of people I serve. Reading Farivar’s account of the judicial and law enforcement stutter-step dance around privacy issues in Habeas Data makes it clear that I am responsible for protecting personal privacy, property, and even data in our technology-dependent society. Fortunately, our school does not collect a lot of data on our students. I will have to be mindful as we grow into a larger more complex educational organization. I am not sure what processes and systems we will need to put in place to be proactive. But my awareness is heightened to the potential risks.

My third biggest takeaway is to properly educate staff about discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Thomas’ narrative timeline of the fight for women’s equal rights in the workplace, Because of Sex, spanned more than fifty years. The last case ended approximately five years ago. We are still working to transform minds about equal rights for women despite the prevalence of women in leadership roles. Our class discussed this book as a few issues came to light among our staff in the school I serve. I realized that there are quite a few people who have been in the workforce during the past 30 years who have not engaged in progressive discussions about gender, gender identity, sexual harassment and discrimination. I understand my role as a leader is to set the expectation and help my colleagues meet that expectation.

My fourth and final takeaway is the realization that the development of jurisprudence related to our constitutional rights is complex, non-linear and seemingly illogical. Media accounts and pundit discussions of court cases sound so straightforward. Court decisions are full of perspective, point of view, bias, and conjecture. I can’t imagine trying to determine how the constitutional writers in the 1700s would apply their legal reasoning to present-day issues. Now when I listen to accounts involving any form of law enforcement issue, litigation or criminal activity, I hesitate to presume guilt, innocence or unfairness unless a blatant act of injustice has occurred. I can hear Dr. Becker ask, “What are the facts of the case?” as I try to suspend my judgment and think about how the court might reason and based on what precedent. As a leader, I am much more aware of what motives, explanations, and judgment others might assume based on the consequences of my decisions.