Sitting in the classroom, thinking it’s a drag
Listening to the teacher rap just ain’t my bag
The noon bells ring, you know that’s my cue
I’m gonna meet the boys On floor number two!
Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Now, teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules
But everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.
Brownsville Station, Yeah! (Album), 1973.
The song may not have been ecclesiastical but the rules prohibiting on campus vaping at church schools may be. Further, other alleged misconduct, such as spraying water all over the boy’s restroom from a broken hose, or stopping up toilets, may also be the subject of rules of conduct that are ecclesiastical as articulated or interpreted. Finally, the decision to suspend or expel a student may not be reversible by a court because it might require an entanglement of the court in religious beliefs that drive the interpretation of the alleged conduct, or even church membership decisions.
In the case of In Re Prince of Peace Christian School, Slip Op. (Tex. Civ. App., 5th Dist., 2020), two students were ultimately expelled from a church high school. The students were allegedly part of a “wolf pack” that was allegedly engaged in vaping on campus, a locker room gathering in which genitalia was drawn and “homophobic” comments were made, spraying the bathroom with water from a broken hose and stopping up toilets. The conduct allegedly violated the school’s “code of conduct” found in the student handbook. The relationship deteriorated and the students’ parents refused to confer with school administrators regarding the conduct except through their attorney. The parents threatened litigation if their children were disciplined. The parents sued and claimed the school breached the contract to educate their children and engaged in tortuous conduct while monitoring their children, especially in the bathrooms. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The church school sought from the appellate court a mandamus of the trial court to dismiss the case. Even though the parents denied presenting any theory of recovery that would require review of ecclesiastic pronouncements, the appellate court held that “[w]e cannot divorce Parents’ contentions of abuse, harassment, and failure to report abuse, from Prince of Peace’s supervision and discipline of Students, its investigation of Parents’ complaints, and its ultimate expulsion of Students and their families.” Therefore, the Court concluded the intrusion of the Court into ecclesiastical issues would represent too great an entanglement and the case was ordered dismissed.
Public schools in most states have protection from litigation micromanagement because sovereign immunity doctrines or statutes limit such litigation to a narrow band of claims. Indeed, while the limitations on claims arise from different sources, the resulting safe zone of school administration might be similar. While criminal conduct toward children would never be tolerated in either public or church schools, one might wish the lack of parenting would not be tolerated either. Sadly, society has not yet developed a solution for the lack of parenting.