Wednesday - October 13, 2004
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Historical Overview
Session Introduction:


Click the TV icon above to view Mike Long's Introduction to Session 1

The structure of public education in Massachusetts:

Practitioners often comment on the fragmented nature of the structure of public education in Massachusetts. Educational opportunities for students are still primarily determined by geography and residence. At the same time, state and federal governments control significant financial resources – with strings attached – on which each school district depends.

Financial incentives, statutory prescriptions for curriculum, programs, and personnel management, and the regulatory briar patch always underfoot require administrators to have a general sense of where we were before we arrived here.

A brief historical review illustrates the purposeful decentralization of public education based on colonial era autonomy of cities and towns. 

Session  Activities:

  1. Read McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education,  415 Mass. 545 (1993)
  2. Read the highlighted sections of the DOE Advisory on School Governance
  3. Visit and save to your favorites list the seven recommended online resources for school law
  4. Apply this weeks readings to the discussion on School Committee Requests


Resources on the Web:

Given the widespread access to information via the Internet, I have listed below the reliable and accurate resources that are readily available for administrators to obtain legal or regulatory guidance on legal issues arising out of the structure or operation of a school or district.

Peruse and retain and casually investigate the following websites which provide no cost Internet access to legal resources and information affecting public schools:

A note of caution: Key word or subject searches for legal information can be difficult due to the proprietary character of indexing systems. As a result, assignments during the course will typically specify a statute or case by citation, so that non-proprietary resources can be accessed. For example, while a proprietary index would generate a specific reference to the General Laws for the Boolean phrase “student and attendance and residency,” I will provide a specific reference, such as “M.G.L. c. 76, §5,” if the course discussion relates to a student’s right to attend the schools of a particular town.

1. provides up to date information  from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents on policy/position papers relating to public education, legislative news and  budget developments,  a schedule of professional development activities,  a list serve for member to member discussion,  and useful links to other websites . . .

2. is the website of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and  a good resource for information about legislation,  state and national trends in school governance  or  finance  and public policy issues affecting education. . .


3. provides  the text of statutes relating to public education and interpretive guidelines on legislation and  national or state  laws and regulations, information about state and federal programs, grants and budget news, as well as a ready source of communication from the Commissioner or other DOE officials. . .


4. provides the full text of all Massachusetts statutes without  annotations of Court decisions. Chapter 71 under Administration of the Government contains most of the statues pertaining to public schools. Court decisions are indexed  by law book companies in a proprietary  system and are not  generally available...


5. provides reasonably good access to  the text state regulations  affecting public education. These include, for example, certification, evaluation and Special Education regulations as well as less frequently  used regulations on matters like approval of private special education schools, school lunch programs, school building assistance etc...


6. provides access to decisions from the United States Supreme Court, many of which directly affect public education. The number of cases available is somewhat time/technology  limited....


7. provides access to a number of court decisions from across the country, including significant Massachusetts decisions, adjudicating school law issues. It is a good general library of school law cases from a national perspective...


Required Readings:
  • McDuffy vs Secretary of the Executive Office of Education, 415 Mass. 545 (1993) -

    The historical background of Public Education in Massachusetts, School District Structure, and the legal relationship of local districts and district officials to state and federal governments has been determined by the  Commonwealth’s landmark decision on school finance and equal educational opportunity McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education, 415 Mass. 545 (1993).

    Using the listed resources provided below and observing the required language of search engines for citation of legal authority, locate: McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education, 415 Mass. 545 (1993)

    • The 415 refers to the volume number in the Massachusetts Reports and the number
    • 545 is the page reference.

    i) Skim pages 569-600 in McDuffy for background information on the Supreme Judicial Court’s historical overview of public education in Massachusetts. 

    ii) Recognize the problem of interpretation of Part II, c.5, §2 of Massachusetts’ Constitution. What was the intention of the drafters in 1780?

    iii) Carefully review pages 607-620 of McDuffy for the court’s discussion of the roles of school committees, the State Board of Education, the Department of Education and the system of financing public education through local property tax and state aid.

  • DOE Advisory on School Governance -

    The Education Reform Act, Chapter 71, Acts of 1993 was adopted by the legislator three days after McDuffy was decided on st1:date Year="1993" Day="15" Month="6">June 15, 1993. The ERA intended to create administrative accountability for curriculum, instruction, and personnel by removing school committees from day-to-day management, especially in the personnel area.  Post ERA, school principals are expected to exercise site based management systems and superintendents primary functions involve budget planning, personnel administration, and curriculum alignment. 

    Although the Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court have issued a number of decisions explaining the ERA since  the middle 1990's, the best general summary of the law is still the Mass. DOE Advisory on School Governance.  During this course we will review areas where judicial decisions have  defined the law in a way that is contrary to the DOE Advisory.  The DOE Advisory,  concentrating on roles of the Committee, Superintendent and Principal, is outlined in the following sections: 


  • Discussions
  • School Committee Requests