Constitutional Law

Students who sued for an adequate civics education lose in 1st Circuit

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A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Rhode Island students can’t proceed with their lawsuit contending that the state failed to provide an adequate civics education in violation of their constitutional rights.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Boston affirmed a federal judge’s October 2020 decision holding that the students did not plausibly allege deprivation of a fundamental constitutional right.

Courthouse News Service has coverage.

The students’ claim fails because they don’t allege that the state totally deprives them of a minimally adequate education, as required by precedent, the appeals court said. U.S. District Judge Denise Casper of the District of Massachusetts, sitting by designation, wrote the Jan. 11 opinion.

The students’ would-be class action suit had alleged that the failure to provide an adequate civics education leaves them inadequately prepared to vote, serve on a jury, participate in civic activities, and understand political and economic systems.

The students argued that the state does not require any civics courses; does not mandate testing for civics knowledge at the high school level; does not adhere to a framework for teaching civics endorsed by policy groups; and provides limited opportunities for civic experiences, such as field trips.

But the state does require at least some civics education in its schools, even if it isn’t as comprehensive as the framework recommendations, the appeals court said. And an amendment to state law while the appeal was pending requires civics proficiency beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year.

“The students have called attention to critical issues of declining civic engagement and inadequate preparation for participation in civic life at a time when many are concerned about the future of American democracy,” the appeals court said. “Nevertheless, the weight of precedent stands in the students’ way here, and they have not stated any viable claim for relief.”

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