Matthew Hotard
Sandlin v. Johnson
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit
Argued: November 14, 1980, Decided: March 11, 1981
Four fourth grade and 18 second grade students filed a class action suit against the supervisory element of the Pittsylvania County, Virginia School District. The plaintiffs claim they were not passed to the third grade because the Ginn Reading Series testing proved they could not read at the required third grade level. They did not deny they could not read at the required level but the were capable to such. They claimed the school did not give them the opportunity to read up to their potential.


The court decided that there was no constitutional case due to the lack of discrimination. The court decided that the students were held back due to their attained reading level.

Impact on teaching:

This decision leaves the passing of a student to the next grade level to school officials and out of the court system. This is only true if the school officials have given the student every documented opportunity to retain the required material. If the teacher does not present the material for any reason then the teacher will be held negligent.


If a teacher does not provide a student with the information needed to pass to the next grade level what legal options do the students have?

The student can ask the court to intervene because the teacher was negligent.

Maura Thompson
Sandlin v. Johnson
U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit
Argued: November 14, 1980 Decided: March 11, 1981
In 1980, four second grade students and their parents filed suit on the principal, the school board and the superintendent of their school, Whitmell Elementary, in Pennsylvania County, Virgina, for themselves as well as eighteen other students in their class. The issue bringing upon this suit was the case that only one child from their class was passed into third grade because of the other students failing to reach the required reading level of the Ginn reading series. Although, the Plaintiffs’ argued, that the children are more than capable of reaching the required reading level, they were however not fully prepared, by the teacher, to reach that level, and therefore, now denied the opportunity of progressing onto the third grade, and also delayed in their future approaches for employment.
The Defendants’ argued that they had given each child every ample opportunity to learn at the expected level and by passing the students on to the next grade, although they had not mastered the mandatory reading credentials, would ultimately harm them in the long run. The Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, which was, in turn, appealed by the Plaintiffs. In the end, the Court ruled in favor of the Defendants and dismissed the case. The Court also ruled that no one, but the teachers and faculty of the school system, were qualified enough to decide whether or not a student is capable of promotion into the subsequent grade, and would, from now on, only be left for the school and its faculty and teachers to make that decision, not the Judicial System.
Impact on teaching:
Foremost, this case gives teachers security, in that, every single parent of a child cannot sue a teacher, or anyone else of the school system, for not passing their child onto the next grade level. It gives them security in their decision that a child may or may not be eligible to move up the academic ladder. The defendants made a good point about passing the child on being harmful because this happens a lot when teachers don’t want to deal with the student anymore so they pass them on to the next level, just to get them out of their hair. This really does harm the child in the long run because they are moving up to the next level, already behind where expected, just to get even more behind when they are bumped up.
Quiz Question: T/F
A court of law can rule against, or for a student that has or has not been promoted to the next level of academics?


Jasmine Rutledge

Michelle SANDLIN, by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Glenn
Sandlin, Gary Stacy, by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. David E.
Stacy, Revonda Ferrell, by her mother, Mrs. Mozetta Ferrell,
Tina Wood, by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Ray Wood, Appellants,
Earl JOHNSON, Superintendent, Pittsylvania County Schools,
Richard Huffman, Principal, Whitmell Elementary School, E.
B. Fitzgerald, Chairman, Pittsylvania County School Board,
Dr. D. E. Burnette, Vice-Chairman, Pittsylvania County
School Board, Obie G. Adams, Member, Pittsylvania County
School Board, Koyeton H. Beavers, Jr., Member, W. S. Easley,
Jr., Member, Carter G. Layne, Member, George A. Martin,
Member, Calvin C. Oakes, Member, Carl A. Obuchowski, Member,
Edith W. Smith, Member, Harold E. Terry, Member, and William
K. Pearson, Member, Appellees.

Four second grade students filed a class action suit on behalf of themselves and 18 other classmates against the Whitmell Elementary School principal, the school superintendent, and the school board of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The accusations were from the end of the 1977-1978 school year, and the case began November 14, 1980 with a final decision being made on March 11, 1981. The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants after only one student in their class was promoted to the third grade. Requirements for promotion included meeting a requisite reading level on the Ginn Reading Series. The plaintiffs agreed to not meeting the requirements on the test, but argued that they were capable of reading on a third grade reading level and should have been promoted. The plaintiffs went on to say that the defendants demonstrated negligent and careless supervision of instruction and showed arbitrary and negligent grading and classification. The plaintiffs claimed the defendants’ actions slowed down the educational completion of the second graders, therefore hindering their employment opportunities. They sought $25,000 each in compensation and a free, timely curriculum to get them back on track with their education.

Decision, Rational:
The court found that when the defendants classified the students by their reading level, none of the plaintiffs’ rights were abused. The classification scheme of the school was put in place to ensure that students were properly educated based on their capabilities and distinct needs. The notion that the principal was negligent was not sound; the court found that the negligence did not fall on the principal but at the level of the teacher. Teacher negligence does not rise to a constitutional level claim, only a state level claim or breach of contract. Inclusion, the case was “inappropriate for review in a judiciary context” and the case was ruled in favor of the defendant.

Impact on Education:
This case is important to the education community, because it shows that certain school wide decisions are made with sound reason and should not be criticized based on person feelings. Had the students been promoted without mastering the material needed, then their whole third grade year would have possibly been spent trying to “catch up” rather than building and advancing to the next level of skills needed for fourth grade. This case also gave accountability to the teachers’ instruction quality rather than solely on the principal, superintendent, and school board.

Quiz Question:
True/False: The Sandlin v. Johnson case impacted education by implying that instruction quality and the mastery of the students’ education lies mostly in the hands of the school superintendent. (False)


Jennifer Carmack
Sandlin v. Johnson
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

Argued November 14, 1980
Decided March 11, 1981

Four second grade students filed a class action lawsuit in Pittsylvania County, Virginia on behalf of themselves and eighteen other students against their principal, superintendent, and school board. The lawsuit was filed due to lack of promotion to the next grade. This lack of promotion stemmed from failure to demonstrate the required level of reading. The defendants argued that they had not mastered the required material. The students agreed that the material had not been master, but stated they were able to read at the third grade level. An argument was raised that the defendants were negligent in their instructions and grading in regards to the students. The backlash the students faced from failing to advance to the next grade was a primary concern in the case. According to the document because of the lack of advancement the student’s employment would be delayed, and the students would have a stigma of failure.

Decision and Rationale:
Defendants argued that they had provided equal opportunity to all of their students, and by allowing them to advance to the next grade would harm them tremendously. The court decided in the favor of the defendants, because the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of proof. The court felt that is was not their place to decide issues of academic performance, and didn’t want to harm the educator/student relationship.

This case is crucial in establishment of federal vs. state involvement in schools.The school districts should have the ultimate say so when dealing with their students. If the students were not able to master the material in the time allotted to them, allowing them to proceed to the next grade would have done them a great injustice. One duty as an educator (be it the teacher, principal, or school board) is to make sure every individual students has mastery of the curricula. If they allow students to continue on to the next level without full mastery of the material, eventually they will fall behind and possibly slip through the cracks. This case is extremely important because it gives school districts the power necessary in deciding what mastery skills need to be met before student advancements can be made.

Test Question:
In (case) the court decided that academic performance issues were better left in the hands of educators and inappropriate for review in a judicial context.

Sandlin v, Johnson