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¨Editorial opinions from the May 28 Exponent and Telegram
A troubling decision
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling this week that was rather troubling. In effect, it gave police officers another green light when it comes to high-speed pursuit of criminals.
The high court voted on Monday to overrule a federal court ruling in California that made it easier to sue law enforcement agencies if innocent people are killed in high-speed chases.
Justice David Souter wrote that police officers have to make "split-second judgments," balancing the need to stop a suspect and limiting the threat to other drivers or bystanders.
The lower court ruling said that officers could be sued if they show "a reckless disregard for life." The Supreme Court has now raised the standard to actions that "shock the conscience." As silly as that may sound, it means that families of innocent people may find it near impossible to seek federal penalties against officers they consider responsible for the deaths that can result from high-speed chases.
They could still, however, file lawsuits in state courts. In West Virginia, for instance, the Legislature passed a law that penalizes the suspect for trying to flee. If someone takes off and hurts or kills an innocent person, he could face up to 15 years in prison. But, again, the onus is on the pursued, not necessarily the person in pursuit.
The West Virginia law followed an incident in the eastern panhandle in 1996 in which a Shepherd College nursing student was killed when her car was forced off the road by a drunken driver trying to elude a state police officer. Her parents settled with the state for $775,000 earlier this year.
There are an estimated 100,000 high-speed chases in this country every year and one has to wonder just how many are justified. Is it really worth the risk to innocent people to chase a suspect at 100 mph across the county? Yes, it's wrong to try and run away from the police, but should not the officers themselves also be held accountable if an innocent person dies as a result of a high-speed chase?
Certainly we are not advocating frivolous lawsuits against police officers. They have a difficult job to do. Our concern is how this decision will affect the officer's decision-making process. Will the Supreme Court ruling do anything to stop the number of deaths that can result from these pursuits or will we see a revival of "The Dukes of Hazard?"
Home schooling certainly has its good attributes
We believe there's something positive to be said about the home schooling of children, although we have no argument that some state guidelines are necessary.
One of the reasons given by a majority of parents who prefer home schooling for their children is to instill religious and moral beliefs, something not permitted in public schools today.
Also, there are parents or guardians who believe public schools do not set high enough academic standards. The parents have perhaps become disgusted about the rise in school violence and social problems in schools, situations over which they seem to have little or no control, despite school-parent interactive organizations.
However, there are parents who believe they can do the best thing for their children by teaching them at home in an environment they are able to control.
We were extremely impressed a few years ago to learn that one of the top finishers in the Harrison County spelling bee had been home- schooled.
And academic tests have shown that many children schooled at home do remarkably well on tests they must take.
But before parents can begin home schooling their children, they must first obtain information about the process, which certainly makes sense to us. They may do this from the office of Bobbie Gelpi, a Harrison County school coordinator who oversees home schooling, or from another home-school family.
We also have no qualms about the next step. The parents must send a letter of intent to the school board, including a list of their educational credentials and a plan of instruction, as well as their children's ages and current grades.
While public schools do not permit prayer or worship in their classrooms Ñ a move back in the early Ô60s that we feel has played a major part in the increase of disciplinary and social problems Ñ the homes which are approved for schooling children shall not be prevented from such religious observance.
We agree with the West Virginia code that states that the parent planning to teach must have both a high school diploma and at least four years of education higher than the most academically advanced child he or she plans to teach.
Granted, when a child is home-schooled, there may be advantages to sitting in a traditional, public school classroom such as acquiring group problem-solving skills and not being with enough children their own age. But this obviously must be a consideration that's carefully weighed when deciding on whether to home-school or not.
Home schooling is definitely not for every student in every household, even when the teaching parent or guardian meets all state qualifications.
Yet we firmly believe those who are schooled at home will benefit from the commitment, firmness and expertise of the teacher, all things which are absolute musts for the process to work properly.
-- Robert F. Stealey