Students Learn About Courts, Watch Oral Arguments
High school students watched Supreme Court oral arguments from the convenience of their classrooms this week as part of a Court program designed to inform them about the judicial branch.
The students viewed a live stream of a case involving a fired Dayton teacher, learning how each side presents their positions before the Court and what types of questions the seven justices raise. Before oral arguments, volunteers talked with students about the work of the judicial system, from the trial level to the state’s highest court, and, afterward, discussed the details of the case and answered students’ questions.
Three high schools – Bell Early College Academy in Reynoldsburg, Columbus North International, and Lakewood in Hebron – participated in the first session of this year’s Courtroom to Classroom initiative, which is beginning its second year.
The case, Dayton Public Schools v. Cox, centers on a Meadowdale High School teacher who was fired for hitting a student in a wheelchair. The dispute involves the teacher’s effort to appeal an arbitrator’s decision stating there was good cause for the dismissal. The teacher filed a lawsuit asking a court to reconsider the arbitrator’s ruling. However, the school board contends that she notified it about her appeal too late, after a deadline set out in state law.
Students had plenty of questions about the Court and this case: Why are there seven judges instead one? Why do the justices have robes of different colors? Why didn’t the teacher have a lawyer? Why didn’t her union represent her in the appeal? What happens next?
Dennis Harrington, managing attorney for Southeast Ohio Legal Services who volunteered his time at one of the high schools for the program, tackled some of these questions from the Lakewood students.
“I think it helped the students to see the competing interests before the Court, and how cases might turn on one word – in this case, the word ‘served” Harrington said, referring to the statute that requires notice of this type of appeal “to be served” on the opposing party within three months. “They saw that these issues aren’t easy decisions for the Court.”
The Court’s session also showed a different dimension of the legal system than the one many people, including the high school students, see on television. That was one of the draws for Kayla LaShells, government teacher at Bell Academy.
“We felt it would be a good opportunity for my class to see the legal system in action and be exposed to the language and sights of a courtroom in a non-traumatic way,” LaShells said. “It is important to learn that the courts are used for non-criminal complaints as well.”
She added that one of her students talked to her after the class about becoming a lawyer. The role of lawyers in the courtroom was one of the key points of discussion. In this case, the teacher had decided not to hire a lawyer and argued the case on her own before the Court.
“The students saw the advantage of having an attorney,” Harrington said. “They also were impressed with how the justices approached the teacher. It put a human face on the Court.”
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor launched the innovative program in 2015.
“Through this initiative, students have the opportunity to learn about a case, watch it through oral argument, and discuss it with real attorneys without leaving their classrooms,” the chief justice said. “It’s a fabulous opportunity to see the justice system at work.”