The editorial on the Supreme Court's recent decision directing that local schools that receive federal funds become subject to suit in federal court by reason of accepting such funds ["When Kids Harass Kids," May 31] asked: "Why exactly should [student-on-student harrassment] not be actionable under federal law, which, after all, does protect adults from such conduct in workplaces that are not federally funded?"

The legal answer is that corporations are regulated by the federal government under the aegis of the "interstate commerce clause." State and local governments as a general rule are not subject to regulation under "interstate commerce." Constitutionally, regulation of private enterprise and of public entities is vastly different. The court ruled that because the federal government does not have general jurisdiction over public entities, such jurisdiction only arises by a voluntary cession of sovereignty in exchange for receiving federal funds.

There are also good practical reasons for treating for-profit businesses and nonprofit government entities differently. As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, the poor, rural Georgia county of Monroe faces a half-million-dollar lawsuit. This represents about 3 to 4 percent of its school budget. When school boards are penalized hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is not some fat-cat investors who suffer but the children. Even the mere threat of lawsuits will no doubt siphon off precious resources that will go to lawyers rather than teachers and students.

Hard cases make bad law. It's easy to empathize with a mistreated young woman, but we ought to consider the real effects that such suits will have on our local schools.


Upper Marlboro