ILNews

Head Start considered a school

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Teachers who work for a federally funded program to help children prepare for kindergarten are not eligible under Indiana statute for unemployment during summer breaks, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In South Bend Community School Corporation v. Linda D. Lucas, No. 93A02-0705-EX-387, the majority of judges agreed with South Bend that Head Start institutions should be considered schools under Indiana statute and therefore, its teachers are not allowed to collect unemployment during the summer.

Lucas works as a teacher at Head Start, which operates from August to June and is a federally funded program and public entity established pursuant to an agreement among 12 public school corporations. Head Start teachers work in classrooms located inside elementary schools and work with teachers of students in other grades to help create a smooth transition for students.

Lucas filed for unemployment insurance benefits during her 2006 summer break, and the Unemployment Insurance Review Board found she was eligible for the benefits because Head Start is not a "school" as defined by Indiana Code 22-4-2-37. Employees of schools are ineligible under Indiana statute to receive unemployment benefits during summer breaks.

South Bend schools appealed the decision, arguing Head Start programs should be considered schools under Indiana statute.

The interpretation of Indiana statute is key to the outcome of the appeal. The courts have decided when a court is faced with two reasonable interpretations of a statute - one of which is supplied by an agency in charge of enforcing the statute - the court should defer to the agency.

The judges examined the dictionary definitions of "educational institution," "school," and "institution," as well as the statutory definition of school.

Head Start is a consortium of 12 educational institutions, which operates in other educational institutions, and its academic calendar is identical to that of the schools responsible for its operation, wrote Chief Judge John Baker. Even though Head Start teachers are not paid during the summer break, their health benefits do continue.

"Inasmuch as Head Start is virtually identical to a school and is inextricably intertwined with the member public school corporations, we can only conclude that the legislature intended that Head Start be treated as an educational institution for the purpose of unemployment compensation," he wrote. He was joined in the decision by Judge John Sharpnack.

In addition, the purpose of the Unemployment Act is to provide funds for people who become involuntarily unemployed because of adverse business and industrial conditions. The Court of Appeals had previously determined this did not include teachers on their summer breaks. There is no evidence Lucas was involuntarily underemployed by adverse business conditions, Chief Judge Baker wrote, and for Lucas to receive benefits would create a windfall. He reversed the lower court decision.

In a separate dissenting opinion, Judge Patricia Riley agreed with the Review Board's decision finding Head Start not to be an educational institution or school. She points out subsection 5 of I.C. Section 22-4-2-37, which states that "school" does not include "an organization offering preschool training, not part of the public or parochial school system." Head Start is not accredited by the Indiana State Board and is federally funded. It is a preschool program for both education and social development.

Judge Riley also wrote that as the majority of judges pointed out in their opinion, the quoted standard of review is to defer to the agency when the court is faced with two reasonable interpretations of a statute. She believes the majority reached the wrong result and would affirm the Review Board's decision.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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