Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff and his parents filed suit against the school district, seeking damages under the Rehabilitation Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983 after plaintiff was expelled from high school. The Fifth Circuit explained that, because plaintiff did not exhaust the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's (IDEA) procedures, his suit asserting other federal claims must be dismissed if it seeks relief that is also available under the IDEA. In this case, both the substance and language of plaintiff's complaint reveal that he was challenging the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that the IDEA promised him. The court held that plaintiff did not seek awards tied to the cost of providing him with an adequate education. Rather, he sought damages for injuries like emotional distress, and such traditional compensatory damages were not available under the IDEA. Therefore, the IDEA's exhaustion requirement applied to plaintiffs who seek damages for the denial of a FAPE. In this case, because plaintiff did not first seek relief through the IDEA administrative process, his lawsuit was properly dismissed. View "McMillen v. New Caney Independent School District" on Justia Law

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In 2006, SFSU hired Gupta, an American woman of Indian ancestry, as a tenure-track assistant professor. In 2009, Gupta and other women of color in the School of Social Work raised issues concerning “hostile work environment” and discrimination. Two months later, Gupta received a critical fourth-year review. Shortly thereafter, Gupta sent emails to a colleague complaining that her workplace was hostile towards women of color. Her supervisor told Gupta “I know about [the emails] ... I’m going to get even.” Another professor witnessed the exchange. After being denied early tenure Gupta filed an EEOC complaint and a federal lawsuit. An arbitrator ordered SFSU to review Gupta for tenure the following year. Despite excellent evaluations and recommendations, Gupta was denied tenure; her supervisor made threatening remarks to a colleague who questioned the decision. SFSU granted tenure to Dr. J.H., another School of Social Work professor, who had not filed a complaint. Gupta’s scores were better than J.H.’s scores and Gupta had more than double the minimum publication requirement, while J.H. had not met that requirement. SFSU terminated Gupta’s employment in 2014. A jury awarded Gupta $378,461 for retaliation; the court awarded $587,160.75 in attorney fees and costs. SFSU has reinstated Gupta as a tenured professor. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred in: allowing Gupta to present evidence of a “comparator professor” without requiring her to show her qualifications were clearly superior; refusing to give a special jury instruction regarding comparator evidence; and intervening in the questioning of witnesses in a manner that favored Gupta. View "Gupta v. Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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Walter Jones appeals the order of the Circuit Court of Madison County affirming his removal as trustee of the Canton Public School District (CPSD) by the Board of Aldermen (the Board) of the City of Canton (the City). Jones argued the Board lacked the authority to remove him as a public official. Finding that the Board’s actions were prohibited by the Mississippi Constitution, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed: because the Board’s authority was based on a city ordinance inconsistent with the Mississippi Constitution and because the Board’s action violated Jones’s right to due process, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s decision to affirm the Board’s removal of Jones as school-board trustee. View "Jones v. City of Canton, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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During his high school senior year, Frank had an encounter with the school’s new resource officer, Redwood City Officer Stahler. Frank’s father filed a complaint alleging Stahler had physically handled Frank in an unlawful manner. An investigation followed but Stahler continued at the school. Months later, Frank and three others left a class without permission. Frank was found in the library. An aide directed him to the administrative vice principal’ office, where Stahler was located. Frank called his father on his cell phone and told the aide he wanted to go to the principal’s office instead but generally cooperated with the aide. Stahler arrived and reprimanded Frank about using the phone in violation of school rules. There was physical contact; the two dispute the nature of the confrontation. Eventually, Stahler grabbed his wrist, forced Frank to the ground, handcuffed him and arrested him. The juvenile court sustained charges of misdemeanor battery and resisting a peace officer. The court of appeal reversed. Stahler did not indicate that Frank acted willfully or unlawfully to touch him. There is no substantial evidence that Frank’s touching Stahler, even if willful, was “harmful or offensive,” another required element of battery. There is no indication Stahler was enforcing any disciplinary rules during the encounter. Given Stahler’s failure to give Frank any clear or direct orders, there was insufficient evidence that Frank willfully resisted Stahler. View "People v. Francis A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a child, by and through his parents, brought a Governmental Tort Claims Act action alleging he was injured through the negligence of a school bus driver. The child was taken to a hospital emergency room, given several diagnostic tests, and treated with 4 staples for one laceration and Dermabond for another. When he filed his District Court action more than one year later he alleged he had medical-related expenses in the amount of $6,209.30, and potential unknown medical expenses as a result of being hit by the bus. Further, he alleged pain and suffering and sought a sum in excess of $10,000. The three basic questions raised on application for certiorari review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court were: (1) whether an Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims notice sent by certified mail to a superintendent of a public school statutorily sufficient; (2) whether an insurance adjuster's request for more information tolled the GTCA time limits if the request also stated an intent for tolling to not occur; and (3) whether a unilateral request by plaintiff for settlement negotiations tolled the GTCA time limits. The Supreme Court held plaintiff's Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA) notice of claim sent to the correct school superintendent by certified mail satisfied the requirement in 51 O.S. 156(D) for filing the GTCA notice with the office of the clerk of the school's board of education, although the superintendent did not transmit the notice to the proper clerk for filing. Further, the Court held the insurance adjuster's request for additional information did not toll the 90-day time limit for approval, denial, or deemed denial of the GTCA claim when the request expressly stated it would not extend or waive the GTCA time limits. Finally, the Court held a plaintiff's letter unilaterally seeking settlement negotiations was not an agreement pursuant to 51 O.S. 157 to toll the GTCA time limits. View "I. T. K. v. Mounds Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the Land Court judge determining that the primary purpose of Plaintiff's proposed residential program for adolescent males could not be characterized as "educational" under the Dover Amendment, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 40A, 3, second paragraph, and therefore was not exempt from certain zoning restrictions, holding that the proposed facility and its curriculum fell within the "broad and comprehensive" meaning of "educational purposes" under the Dover Amendment. Plaintiff, The McLean Hospital Corporation, sought to develop a residential life skills program for fifteen to twenty-one year old males who exhibit extreme emotional dysregulation to allow the adolescents to lead useful, productive lives. The building commissioner determined that the proposed use was educational and that Plaintiff could proceed under the Dover Amendment and its local analog, section 6.1(i) of the town of Lincoln's bylaw. The town's zoning board of appeals reversed, determining that the program was medical or therapeutic, as opposed to education. The Land Court judge upheld the determination. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter for entry of a judgment in favor of Plaintiff, holding that the fact that the curriculum of the facility is not conventional does not negate the fact that the predominant purpose of the program is educational. View "McLean Hospital Corp. v. Town of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's petition for writ of administrative mandate, arguing that the University's disciplinary proceeding concerning his sexual misconduct with another student was unfair and the evidence did not support the adjudicator's findings. The court held that plaintiff's hearing was fair where the University's policy complied with all the procedural requirements identified by California cases dealing with sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings: both sides had notice of the charges and hearing and had access to the evidence, the hearing included live testimony and written reports of witness interviews, the critical witnesses appeared in person at the hearing so that the adjudicator could evaluate their credibility, and the respondent had an opportunity to propose questions for the adjudicator to ask the complainant. The court also held that plaintiff's contentions that the hearing was unfair were meritless where his arguments concerning the charge evaluation worksheet were forfeited and did not support mandamus relief; the hearing coordinator was not biased; the independent adjudicator was not biased; and there was no cumulative impact. Therefore, the court held that there was substantial evidence that plaintiff should have known that the student was incapacitated. View "Doe v. Occidental College" on Justia Law

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Speech challenged University of Michigan policies prohibiting,“[h]arassing or bullying another person—physically, verbally, or through other means.” The office that investigates alleged violations defined terms on its website, using state law, University policies, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Speech challenged only the Dictionary definitions: Harassing: to annoy persistently; to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for, especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal and physical conduct. Bullying: to frighten, hurt, or threaten ...; to act like a bully ...; to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using force; to treat abusively; to affect by means of force or coercion. After this lawsuit was filed, the University removed those definitions, leaving only the unchallenged state law definitions. Speech also challenged the Bias Response Team, which responds to student-reported “bias incidents,” defined as “conduct that discriminates, stereotypes, excludes, harasses or harms anyone in our community based on their identity (such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, or religion).” Causing a bias incident is not, itself, punishable. The Team does not determine whether reported conduct is a bias incident but offers support to the individual who made the report; it may request a voluntary meeting with the subject of the report. The Team cannot compel a meeting and has no direct punitive authority but can make reports to other bodies. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit vacated. Speech has standing to bring its facial challenge because its members face an objective chill: the referral power and the invitation to meet. the University has not established that its voluntary change makes it “absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.” View "Speech First, Inc. v. Schlissel" on Justia Law

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Damian Richard appealed an order denying in part his special motion to strike Alan Hicks's complaint for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hicks was a principal of a Catholic elementary and middle school; Richard was the husband of one the school's teachers and a parent of children who attended the school. The complaint arose from Richard's role in prompting the Diocese of San Diego (Diocese) to remove Hicks from his school principal position. According to Richard, Hicks asked Richard to serve on the school's advisory board. At an advisory board meeting in the fall of the 2015-2016 school year, Hicks informed the advisory board he wanted to allow the producers of a television show to film the show on the school's campus. Richard expressed his belief the school should not be affiliated with the show because the show was intended for mature audiences due to its sexual nature and conduct. At a fundraiser in the spring of that same school year, Hicks revisited the topic with Richard. During their discussion, Hicks said he had previously permitted a motorcycle dealership to use the school's campus for a photoshoot and had received complaints because of the pornographic nature of the photographs taken. Later in the summer, Hicks asked Richard to serve as the chair of the advisory board for the 2016-2017 school year and Richard accepted the post. In that role and during that school year, Richard received complaints from parents, teachers, and other board members about Hicks. The complaints included concerns about Hicks's poor leadership, mismanagement of the school, frequent inappropriate comments to and about students and female staff, and advocacy for a curriculum Richard and other parents did not believe was in the best interest of the students or the school. In the winter of the 2016-2017 school year, the advisory board investigated complaints, which were corroborated by employees and parents. Richard and the other parents then sent a letter to the bishop of the Diocese. Richard contended the Court of Appeal had to reverse that part of the trial court's order denying his anti-SLAPP motion because, among other reasons, the court erred in deciding the common interest privilege did not apply to bar Hicks's claims. The Court agreed with this contention, and reversed. The matter was remanded back to the trial court with directions to vacate the order, to enter a new order granting the motion and striking Hicks's complaint, and to determine the amount of attorney fees and costs to award Richard under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16(c)(1). View "Hicks v. Richard" on Justia Law

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After O.W. was withdrawn from school, the administrative hearing officer found that the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and awarded O.W. two years of private school tuition. The district court affirmed and the school district appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the IDEA's text and structure, including its implementing regulations, compel a conclusion that the child find and expedited evaluation requirements are separate and independent such that a violation of the latter does not mean a violation of the former. Therefore, the district court erred to the extent it held otherwise. The court also held that the continued use of behavioral interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the school district's child find duties, and thus a child find violation occurred. In regard to claims that the district court failed to implement O.W.'s individualized education program (IEP), the district court did not err in finding that the use of the take-discipline was a significant or substantial departure from the IEP; the district court erred in concluding that eight instances of physical restraints violated O.W.'s IEP; and the single instance of police involvement did not rise to the level of an actionable violation. Furthermore, the district court correctly concluded the May 18, 2015, modification rose to the level of an actionable violation, but erred in finding the May 6, 2015, modification represented an actionable failure to implement O.W.'s IEP. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the remedy issue for reconsideration. View "Spring Branch Independent School District v. O.W." on Justia Law