Homework during summer vac. prompts lawsuit.

  1. Homework during summer vacation prompts lawsuit

    Pair sue math teacher, Whitnall District

    From: http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/jan05/294687.asp

    Posted: Jan. 19, 2005

    In an effort to teach educators a lesson about the importance of summer vacation, a Whitnall High School student and his father have filed a lawsuit against the boy's math teacher that seeks to bar teachers from requiring homework over the summer.

    [font=arial, helvetica]Quotable
    [font=arial, helvetica] Come summer, they need a break.
    [font=arial, helvetica]- Bruce Larson,
    [font=arial, helvetica] If I were a judge, I would not only dismiss the lawsuit, I'd levy a fine against the father for misusing the courts.
    [font=arial, helvetica]- Philip K. Howard,
    Legal reform advocate
    [font=arial, helvetica] The second assignment was 16 pages, and that was extremely difficult for me to do. :stone
    [font=arial, helvetica]- Peer Larson,

    In the lawsuit, 17-year-old Peer Larson and his father, Bruce Larson of Hales Corners, argue that school officials have no legal authority to make students do homework over the summer because the state-required 180-day school year is over.

    "It is poor public policy," Bruce Larson argues in the lawsuit. "These students are still children, yet they are subjected to increasing pressure to perform to ever-higher standards in numerous theaters.

    "Come summer, they need a break."

    But some observers say the schools and courts need a break from lawsuits such as the one brought by the Larsons.

    "If I were a judge, I would not only dismiss the lawsuit, I'd levy a fine against the father for misusing the courts," says Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and legal reform advocate based in New York City and author of the bestseller "The Death of Common Sense."

    "Courts are there for serious disputes," Howard says. "If you let everyone who is disgruntled go to court, it just uses up court resources.":hatparty:

    The Larsons argue that if teachers want to assign homework during the summer vacation, the homework should be voluntary and not factored into the student's grade without the student's consent.

    "There's not supposed to be any work when someone is on vacation," Peer Larson said in an interview. "It should be my time to pursue whatever I like without having the school following me when it's not even the school year."

    His summer vacation was stressful, he says, because he had to do math homework in addition to a summer job as a camp counselor that often exceeded 40 hours a week.

    Summer assignments are not that unusual these days - especially summer reading. Blane McCann, superintendent of the Shorewood School District, says he has worked in districts that expect students to read over break.

    "I think that is appropriate as they prepare for the school year by providing more time for reflection," McCann says.

    Shorewood does not have a policy that specifically addresses homework over summer break. Some teachers there give students a list of summer reading or math packets, but the work is not required, officials say.

    To Howard, a lawsuit over such assignments is frivolous.

    Requiring homework over the summer is a "perfectly reasonable, non-abusive requirement," and if parents don't like it they should take the matter up with the school board, he says.

    Bruce Larson says he mentioned his concerns to the school board but did not file a formal complaint.

    Whitnall School Board member Mary Ann Lindberg said Larson did bring the matter up but did not file a formal complaint. She said the board left the matter up to administrators and could not say if the board would take up the matter if Larson did file a formal complaint.

    "Sometimes those kinds of decisions are best made at the building level with the teachers and the principal and perhaps someone in administration, because they know best what they're trying to achieve," Lindberg said.

    She referred a reporter to the district's Web site on homework policy and procedures.

    It says students can expect one to three hours per week per course "beyond the regular class period," but does not specify whether that extends into the summer break. It also says the student should "organize his/her out of school time so that adequate time for study is provided."

    However, addressing the role of teacher, the policy says "Homework should be given with consideration for the amount of time that the student has available."

    The Larsons are representing themselves in the lawsuit, which was filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court last week. Bruce Larson is president of Larson Chemical Corp. in Greendale.

    In addition to Peer Larson's Whitnall High School math teacher, Aaron Bieniek, the lawsuit also names the high school math department chair, Nancy Sarnow; Whitnall High School Principal Joel Eul; the Whitnall School District; and state schools superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster.

    Whitnall School District Superintendent Karen Petric says the district tried to resolve the matter but to no avail. She sees no reason for Larson to sue his teacher.

    "I strongly believe the district acted appropriately and didn't do anything wrong," Petric said. "Court is not the place to solve it. It doesn't belong there."

    Petric said the state Department of Public Instruction reviewed Larson's complaint and dismissed it. She said the district would not have anything else to say on the matter because of concerns over student confidentiality. A call to Bieniek was not returned.

    The case has been referred to state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, state DPI spokesman Joe Donovan says. A spokesman for the state Department of Justice had no comment.

    Teacher's expectations

    The lawsuit emanates from a series of assignments that Peer Larson says Bieniek gave him and his classmates at the end of the 2003-'04 school year.

    At the time, Peer Larson says, he was a sophomore in Brenda Hojnacki's class. Bieniek gave what Peer Larson described as a "presentation" for what students could expect in his honors pre-calculus class in the fall.

    "He handed out the homework then as well," Peer Larson says. "He told us it was available online to download."

    Peer Larson says Bieniek told the students he wanted the homework done at certain points during the summer, and that it had to be "postmarked by a certain date."

    He said those dates were approximately at the beginning of July, August, and when the school year resumed.

    "Not too many people were exactly happy with it," Peer Larson says. "Nobody really likes to do homework, especially during the summer."

    Peer Larson said he completed the first and third assignments, but had trouble doing the second one because it was a lengthy assignment and he was working a full-time job as a counselor at the Indian Mound Reservation Boy Scout Camp in Oconomowoc.

    "The second assignment was 16 pages, and that was extremely difficult for me to do," Peer Larson says.:uhoh21:

    "At camp, there really was never enough time to do it. At the end of the day, I'd be too tired to actually work on any kind of math."

    Peer Larson says he could not recall if Bieniek made his phone number available to help the students, but that he thinks Bieniek included his e-mail address and some Web sites that could help guide students through the work.

    He says Bieniek agreed to count only the assignments with the two highest scores, but only as long as he did all three assignments, which he says he ultimately did.

    He says the whole experience ruined what was supposed to be an enjoyable summer break. :chuckle

    "It provided quite an amount of stress," Larson says. "I barely made the first assignment in on time."
    Last edit by Jo Anne on Jan 20, '05
  2. 10 Comments

  3. by   eltrip
    Give me a break. Would they like some cheese with that whine? And working 40+ hours per week as a camp counselor is the sort of "break" Mr. Larson wants for his son? Gee, that makes no sense to me, whatsoever.

    In the United States, our children spend less time in the classroom than any other industrialized nation (please correct me if I'm mistaken). Most of our children are unable to compete on a global level. Bottom line, it is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that his/her child(ren) receives a good education. Mr. Larson is not helping his son one iota with his attitude.

    I am grateful that my child has work to do over the summer. I currently add additional work to what her teacher has assigned in order to help my DD master the material she is learning. I plan to add to whatever her teacher assigns this summer as well. She has much to learn, bless her heart.
  4. by   SmilingBluEyes
    should just homeschool and that would dispense w/homework altogether...rofl

    sheesh there is NO end to litigation huh? I should have been a laywer.
  5. by   Grace Oz
    Perhaps your summer break is TOO long? In, Australia the school terms are divided into four. During our summer break, school finishes around mid-December, re-commencing end of January. They get about 6 weeks, (approx.), holidays.

    In fairness to the student in this case, I have no memory of ever having to do school work during the summer holidays.
    And... back "in those days" we used to have a much longer summer break. You finished one school year at the end of the year,(December), and commenced the new school year at the beginning of a whole new year, (Late January/February). It's still the same now, just shorter holidays.

    As for suing though ....hhmmm. Whatever happend to just writing a letter?!
  6. by   Spidey's mom
    I don't agree with the suing thing either. And teachers will tell you that after summer vacation the kids do go back a bit behind in educational terms. And I've always thought there should be reading assignments.

    But, I can see how when kids are truly busy in the summer maybe on a mission trip or on a family holiday it might be hard to complete the assignment the teacher in the article wanted.

    I do see summer as a respite - but maybe Grace is right - it is too long.

    Although my best friend is a teacher and loves her summers off. As I would. Too bad hospitals don't close all summer.

  7. by   Roy Fokker
    I think both "father" and "son" need a couple of swats on their hineys in public before being tossed outta the courtroom.

    Abuse of the justice system at it's finest example here.

    Ahh, such is the price we pay for living in a free society.

    Come to think of it, maybe it's not so bad. We get to ridicule such people and have fun.

    Quote from eltrip
    Give me a break. Would they like some cheese with that whine?
    :chuckle :chuckle :chuckle THANK for that! Now I've gotta keep that in mind next time I meet certain people!
  8. by   ayndim
    Guess that kid is glad he isn't mine. I "homeschool" mine during the summer. Can't let those brains become idle. They forget so much. And my dd's school has an extended school year. Around here they are normally out 3 months. My dd's school is gets out mid-June and goes back the 1st week of August.
  9. by   URO-RN
    lawsuit to end summer homework failsthursday, january 27, 2005
    milwaukee-the wisconsin (search) attorney general says a student's lawsuit to end mandatory summer homework doesn't make the grade.

    the state's chief law enforcement official says putting limits on homework is a local issue, not a state one. the attorney general considers the complaint "unmeritorious," and wants a court to order the student and his dad to cough up lawyers' fees.

    a 17-year-old high school junior and his father filed the suit two weeks ago demanding that students be allowed to decide whether to complete summer homework.

    the student, peer larson (search), argued that his summer homework was an unnecessary stress, considering he was also working at a demanding job as a camp counselor.
  10. by   UM Review RN
    I personally don't believe the school has any mandatory claims on my child's time during summer vacation. That's like passing A&P in May yet having a paper due for it in August.

    Apparently, they hashed it out at the school level and the school disagrees.

    Well, it's a free country and this guy has the bucks to pay a lawyer, why not just move the kid to a different school or, as has already been suggested, homeschool? The kid's a high schooler and there are even classes online for homeschool (and some mainstream high schools as well).

    I don't think I'd sue the teacher. I might start a petition up to see how many parents actually agree with the high school. Four to six hours of homework after an 8-hour day is not unusual for a high schooler nowadays, and I really believe it's excessive.

    Here's an interesting story on the topic from NPR's website:

    Last edit by UM Review RN on Jan 27, '05
  11. by   smk1
    ok i agree with kids needing reading lists and some form of active study, and a lawsuit is beyond ridiculous here, but i was kind of taken aback to read that the kid had multiple assignments one of which was 16 pages long and they all had due dates during the vacation that they had to be postmarked by. I think that teacher is expecting a bit too much. However why not just request a different teacher if the demanding style is too much for your childs lifestyle? My siblings and i were expected to go to summer enrichment classes every summer (by our parents) and we had no problem with it, but i don't like the idea of "due dates" and "postmarking" items during a vacation period. Why can't they just bring it in on the first day? or make it extra credit or something?
  12. by   CHATSDALE
    I had a friend who was a teacher and she said that the first 6wks of the school term is trying to get children back in the learning mode and recouping what has been lost...
    i agree with those who suggest shorter school sessions and shorter vacations.. maybe going to the quarter system... as for what the boy is learning is that he can use the court system to amuse himself anytime he wants... the boy and his father are using the threats of lawsuits like you see some patients...they know that it is easeir to settle than to pay attornies and court costs...if he is suing the school there will be a financial settlement raising its nasty little head somewhere down the line
    maybe the other students wanted this if they were advancing to an honors class...i think that they should get extra credit and this could not punished for not being involved in an extra work but he should not expect the class to take time for him to catch up with those who chose to work