High court hears student grading case

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Allowing one student to correct another's work and call out the results to the teacher is just as much a violation of privacy as a doctor forcing patients to reveal medical test results in public, a lawyer argued to the Supreme Court Tuesday.

Revealing grades in open class is needlessly embarrassing, and violates federal law, the lawyer for an Oklahoma mother of three argued. The court is expected to decide next year whether trading papers in class, as the practice is known, violates a federal privacy law, as the woman claims.

Kristja Falvo claims classmates called her son Philip "dummy" and "stupid" because the reading-disabled child's scores were lower than his sixth-grade classmates in Owasso, Okla. She said she complained but got nowhere.

Falvo sued in 1998. She won a lower court ruling that focused on whether paper-swapping violates a 1974 law that conditioned federal aid for schools to a guarantee that "education records" will be kept private.

The Bush administration sided with the school district, and urged the high court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that critics say could spell the end of academic honors like "student of the week," or displays of graded student art in school hallways.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals misinterpreted the 1974 law, the administration argued.

Congress was concerned with preserving the privacy of final, institutional records of a school, not the results of one pop quiz, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler argued for the government.

Many lawyers who pay close attention to the Supreme Court were stunned that the justices agreed to hear the case, and the court has taken some ribbing and worse for involving itself in what seems to many like a silly spat.

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