EJF has made it possible for Laura Klein to intern this summer at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in Alexandria, Virginia. NSBA is a federation of school board associations from across the country. I was initially interested in interning at NSBA because of my experience tutoring in a West Philadelphia middle school. As an intern in NSBA’s Office of General Counsel, I have had the opportunity to see the impact of both common law and legislation (like No Child Left Behind) on the day-to-day activities of school boards.
A lot of legislation impacts school boards. There is federal legislation affecting everything from employment of teachers to accommodating the needs of special education students. One of my most interesting projects has been researching legislation for reducing childhood obesity. I was interested to find out that physical education is not required by federal law, and when state law mandates it, some school districts just ignore those requirements because of weak enforcement mechanisms. I also learned that some states have cracked down on candy and other snacks in schools (one state even forbids candy from being used as a reward in classrooms!).
A big part of what NSBA’s Office of General Counsel does is get involved as amicus in Supreme Court cases that may impact school districts. On my second day, the office had a meeting to decide whether they should write an amicus brief in a case for which the Court had recently granted cert. I realized how much this internship differs from my pre-law school internships when the attorneys asked for my opinion on the matter! Since then we have had weekly meetings about amicus briefs, which has been a great education in the Supreme Court.
One of the more entertaining aspects of my job is a listserv for all the school board attorneys (both in-house and outside counsel) that are members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys. I believe there are about 600 attorneys on the listserv, and they put me on it for the summer so I could learn about education law. The attorneys send out the facts of situations that have arisen and ask the other attorneys for advice on how to proceed. The other attorneys give their opinions and the names of cases on point. The issues cover as broad a range of circumstances as you can imagine, from employment problems (can a school district fire a teacher who drunkenly resisted arrest at a local bar one weekend?) to First Amendment questions (can a church that uses school grounds for services on Sundays include wine in communion in violation of a school policy prohibiting alcohol on school grounds?).
I have genuinely enjoyed my time at NSBA’s Office of General Counsel. All the attorneys are very dedicated to what they do and have been extremely welcoming. My enthusiasm for practicing law has multiplied after just a month of applying the legal skills we learned last year to real-life situations.