1 Knowing the Right
Thing to Do
Guidance from Legal History,
Legal Theory, and Brain Research
Imagine the tears tumbling down toddler Clarence’s cheeks as he
presses his cherubic ebony face into the window glass of his classroom,
searching, heartbroken, for his teacher who is late (again). What would
be the right thing to do? Hold Clarence’s habitually tardy teacher ac-
countable? Take her through the steps of progressive discipline? If she
continues to arrive late, tell her “You’re fired”?
As early childhood leaders, when we focus on high standards of
quality care and education for children and families, we know the right
thing to do. Clarence deserves our best.
Knowing the right thing to do legally isn’t always so clear, how-
ever. Stacks of musty judicial decisions, changing state and federal
regulations, plus dog-eared handbooks of policies and procedures can
complicate our decision making. Teachers, parents, and community
members, often with opposing views, expect us to champion their side.
Being able to see the merits in each group’s position and foresee their
outrage if decisions don’t go their way can turn our decision-making
path into a mine field.
This book clarifies how to make intelligent choices, both to prevent
legal difficulties and address what can’t be prevented. Practical tips on
“how to think like a lawyer” follow in Chapter 2. There you will learn
in concrete terms how an attorney is likely to assess everyday chal-
lenges that early childhood professionals face. In that chapter we start
with “first things first”: making decisions, both reasoned and compas-
sionate, that put us in good stead legally.
Before we continue, let’s be clear on expectations: This book is not
a substitute for your seeking legal advice. We are not acting as your
attorneys, nor are we giving legal advice. However, we believe we can
offer useful information to support you in the challenging decisions
you make daily.
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