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AGOSTINI v. FELTON. Agostini v. Felton , 521 U.S. 203 (1997). Is the Establishment Clause violated when public school teachers instruct in parochial schools?. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Enacted by Congress in 1965

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Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997)

Is the Establishment Clause violated when public school teachers instruct in parochial schools?

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

  • Enacted by Congress in 1965

  • Provides remedial instruction to economically disadvantaged students

  • Districts are required to provide services to as many children as possible including those attending parochial schools

Aguilar v. Felton473 U.S. 402 (1985)

  • Did New York City’s decision to use Title I funds to pay salaries of parochial school teachers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

Aguilar v. Felton

  • Since 1966 NYC had used portions of its Title I funding to pay salaries of employees who taught in parochial schools

  • Taxpayers sued NYC school board saying New York’s program violated the Establishment Clause.

  • Supreme Court held that public employees would be unable or unwilling to ignore the religious environment in which they were providing services.

  • Means to avoid employees adding their religious ideas into the content of instruction resulted in excessive entanglement.

  • In remand, NY schools were not allowed to provide services in private schools.

Cost of providing Title I services outside of the private school setting

  • Most common method of providing services became mobile classrooms / buses.

  • NY schools spent $100 Million From the time Aguilar was handed down until 1996.

Agostini v. Felton

  • In 1996 New York Board of Education Sought relief from the injunction set down by Aguilar.

  • Sited Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) by which the court can excuse a party from a judgment in a case when it is no longer equitable.

Board argued that circumstances had changed

  • Exorbitant costs were a changed factor

  • Aguilar was no longer good law

    • In Kiryas Joel, five justices asserted that Aguilar should be reconsidered.

    • Aguilar had been undermined by recent decisions including:

      • Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for the Blind

      • Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District

Kiryas Joel Village School v. Grumet

  • In 1989, the New York legislature passed a school districting law that intentionally drew its boundaries in accordance with the boundaries of the Village of Kiryas Joel.

  • Taxpayers and the association of state school boards sued claiming that the statute violated the Establishment Clause.

  • Court held that the statute’s purpose was to exclude all but those who lived in and practiced the village enclave’s extreme form of Judaism.

  • The essence of the Establishment Clause is that government should not demonstrate a preference for one religion over another, or religion over non-religion in general.

Witters v. Washington Department of Services for the Blind

  • WA supreme court held that providing state financial assistance to someone who wanted to become a religious professional “clearly has the primary effect of advancing religion.”

  • U.S. Supreme Court held that vocational assistance provided under the WA program is paid directly to the student who transmits it to the educational institution of his or her choice and as such does not directly support a religious institution.

Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District

  • Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause did not bar the school district from providing a sign language interpreter for a student who attended a religious high school.

Agostini v. Felton Decision

  • In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Aguilar was not longer “Good Law” and that petitioners were entitled to relief from the operation of the District Court’s injunction under Rule 60(b)(5).

Agostini v. Felton Decision

  • The Court abandoned the assumption that public school employees will inculcate religion just because they teach in a classroom in a religious school.

  • The system of supervising Title I teachers that NY had in place was sufficient and did not result in excessive entanglement.

Majority and Dissenting

  • Voting with the majority were Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.

  • Justice Souter filed a dissent in which Justices Stevens, and Ginsburg joined in full and Justice Breyer joined in part.

  • Justice Ginsburg filed a dissent in which Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer joined.

Subsequent Cases in the 8th Circuit and Minnesota

  • Foley v. Special School District of St. Louis County (1998)

    • The Court held that the school district did not have to provide special education services in a private-parochial school because of IDEA as it was amended in 1997.

    • Not necessarily great educational policy for state of Missouri to not allow public in private, but was allowed under new law.

Subsequent Cases in the 8th Circuit and Minnesota

  • Westendorp v. Wedl (1998)

    • The Court held that the school district had to pay for the cost of a paraprofessional at the same rate they would be paying at the public school.

    • Decision was based on IDEA as it existed prior to its amendment in 1997.

Subsequent Cases in the 8th Circuit and Minnesota

  • Stark v. Independent School District #640 (1997)

    • The Court held that a Vesta, MN school could remain open and supported by the public school district.

    • The school was not established as a religious school and was not teaching religion.

Recommendations and Applications

  • According to the decision in Agostini, not all entanglements between church and state generate excessive conflict.

    • Not all policies either establish or inhibit religion.

  • Law changes (IDEA, IDEA 1997, IDEIA)

    • Sometimes states are allowed more independence.

    • Requirements for provision of services and criteria for disabilities changes.

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