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End Slavery at Liberty and Freedom

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An interview with

In 1990, the Bethlehem Area School District in Bethlehem, PA., decided that every public high school student would perform 60 hours of unpaid community service during high school. The District gave students an open-ended list of approved organizations where they could perform this service, and named Phyllis Walsh, a teacher in the District for 21 years, as the first Community Service Coordinator. When the new program launched in the fall of 1990, two students and their parents filed suit against the District, arguing that the mandatory community service program violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments and constituted involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Three years later, the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit Federal District Court ruled that a school district did not violate any rights by requiring community service. This lawsuit - Steirer by Steirer v. Bethlehem Area School District - set precedent for the rest of the United States and was a cause célèbre at the time.

In this Voices from the Past, Phyllis Walsh, now retired, gives a first-hand account of what it was like to be the center of attention in defending student service.  She notes that bumper stickers about the case can still be seen in the Bethlehem area, sporting the rallying cry: “End Slavery at Liberty and Freedom!” - a direct reference to Liberty High School and Freedom High School, the two schools involved in this landmark case.