Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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The Sumter County Board of Education ("the SCBE") appealed a circuit court's dismissal of its complaint asserting claims of reformation of a deed, breach of contract, and fraud, as well as seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, against the University of West Alabama ("UWA"); UWA's president Dr. Kenneth Tucker, in his individual and official capacities; and UWA's former president, Dr. Richard Holland, in his individual and official capacities. Because a new high school had been built, in early 2010 the SCBE closed Livingston High School ("LHS"). Shortly thereafter, officials from UWA approached the SCBE about the possibility of purchasing the LHS property. In 2011, a "Statutory Warranty Deed" conveying the LHS property from the SCBE to UWA ("the deed") was executed, and it was signed on the SCBE's behalf by Dr. Morton. The deed did not contain any restrictions on the LHS property or its use. The deed was recorded in the Sumter Probate Court on June 27, 2011. In May 2017, the University Charter School ("UCS") filed an application with the Alabama Public Charter School Commission ("the APCSC") to establish a charter school in Sumter County. In its application, UCS stated that the LHS property was its first choice for the location of the school. The APCSC approved UCS's application in July 2017. In October 2017, it was publicly announced that UWA had an agreement with UCS for UCS to use the LHS property to house its school.3 The SCBE's complaint alleged that in November 2017 the SCBE contacted UWA president Dr. Tucker and "requested that Defendant UWA honor its covenant not to use Livingston High School property as a K-12 charter school." However, UCS continued its preparations, and in August 2018 UCS opened its charter school on the LHS property with over 300 students attending. In May 2018, the SCBE filed the complaint at issue here, and the circuit court ultimately dismissed the complaint. Because the Alabama Supreme Court found that a restrictive covenant in the sales contract violated clear public policies of the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, the restrictive covenant was unenforceable. Therefore, the circuit court's judgment dismissing all the claims against the University defendants was affirmed. View "Sumter County Board of Education v. University of West Alabama, et al." on Justia Law

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X.M., a student at Maple Elementary School, sued Hesperia Unified School District (HUSD), claiming he was sexually assaulted on campus by one of their employees. He sought treble damages under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, alleging his assault resulted from HUSD’s cover up of a prior sexual assault by the same employee. The trial court granted the school district’s motion to strike the increased damages request on the ground that treble damages under section 340.1 were primarily punitive and therefore barred by Government Code section 818. X.M. filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to vacate the trial court’s order and conclude section 818’s immunity did not apply to the treble damages provision at issue here. He argued the primary purpose of the provision is to compensate victims of childhood sexual assault for the additional harm caused by discovering their abuse could have been prevented if those entrusted with their care had responded differently to prior sexual assaults on their watch. In the alternative, he argues the provision’s primary purpose is to incentivize victims to come forward and file lawsuits. The Court concluded the primary purpose of section 340.1’s treble damages provision was punitive because it was designed to deter future cover ups by punishing past ones. "[T]he economic and noneconomic damages available under general tort principles are already designed to make childhood sexual assault victims whole ... It is the rare treble damages provision that isn’t primarily designed to punish and deter misconduct, and nothing in section 340.1 or its legislative history convinces us the Legislature intended the increased award to be more compensatory (or incentivizing) than deterrent." Further, the Court held that section 818’s immunity applied when the defendant was a public agency like HUSD. The Court therefore denied the petition. View "X.M. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Dr. Rachel Tudor sued her former employer, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, under Title VII, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, retaliation, and a hostile work environment after Southeastern denied her tenure, denied her the opportunity to reapply for tenure, and ultimately terminated her from the university. A jury found in favor of Dr. Tudor on her discrimination and retaliation claims and awarded her damages. The district court then applied the Title VII statutory cap to reduce the jury’s award, denied Dr. Tudor reinstatement, and awarded front pay. Both Dr. Tudor and the University appealed: Southeastern challenged certain evidentiary rulings and the jury verdict; Dr. Tudor challenged several of the court’s post-verdict rulings, the district court’s denial of reinstatement, the calculation of front pay, and the application of the statutory damages cap. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Southeastern’s challenges. Regarding Dr. Tudor’s appeal however, the Court held that there was error both in denying reinstatement and in calculating front pay, although there was no error in applying the Title VII damages cap. Affirming in part and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Tudor, et al. v. Southeastern OK St. University, et al." on Justia Law

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Compensatory education is not an automatic remedy for a child-find violation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Compensatory educational services are designed to counteract whatever educational setbacks a child encounters because of IDEA violations—to bring her back where she would have been but for those violations. At minimum, a parent must offer evidence that a procedural violation—like the child-find violation asserted here—caused a substantive educational harm, and that compensatory educational services can remedy that past harm.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court was well within its "broad discretion and equitable authority" when it concluded that plaintiff had not shown that the school board's child-find violation resulted in educational deficits for the child that could be remediated with prospective compensatory relief. Furthermore, because the school began its special education referral process before plaintiff filed suit, she cannot show that she is entitled to attorney's fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "J.N. v. Jefferson County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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When Aleckna filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, she still owed the University (CCU) tuition. The filing of her bankruptcy petition imposed an “automatic stay” of all collection actions against her. While her case was pending, Aleckna, who had completed her coursework, asked CCU for a copy of her transcript. The University would only provide her with an incomplete transcript that did not include her graduation date, explaining that a “financial hold” had been placed on her account. Aleckna filed a counterclaim in the Bankruptcy Court arguing that CCU violated the automatic stay by refusing to provide her with a complete certified transcript, 11 U.S.C. 362(a)(6).The Bankruptcy Court found in Aleckna’s favor, concluding that she was entitled to receive her complete transcript, plus damages and attorneys’ fees because CCU’s violation was “willful.” The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Section 362(k) provides that an individual who commits a willful violation is liable for damages and attorneys’ fees unless “such violation is based on an action taken by an entity in the good faith belief” that the stay had terminated. Precedent establishes a “willfulness” defense that is distinct from one of good faith but CCU failed to show that the law regarding the transcript issue was sufficiently unsettled to establish a lack of willfulness within the meaning of that precedent. View "In re: Aleckna" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the high school and school district in an action brought by plaintiff under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff, a student with attention deficit disorder, sought damages after he was assaulted and seriously injured by another student at a high school football game. Petitioner argues that guidance issued by the DOE in various Dear Colleague Letters should be binding, and that the school's failure to adopt all of the Letters' suggestions for preventing harassment of disabled students amounts to disability discrimination.The panel concluded that guidance issued by the DOE in the Letters was not binding and that plaintiff may not use the Letters to leapfrog over the statutory requirements to assert a cognizable claim under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The panel explained that the Letters do not adjust the legal framework governing private party lawsuits brought under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act. Therefore, plaintiff's claims—which rely entirely on the enforceability of the Letters as distinct legal obligations—fail. In this case, the Letters did not make plaintiff's need for social accommodation "obvious," such that failure to enact their recommendations constituted a denial of a reasonable accommodation with deliberate indifference. Furthermore, no request for a social-related accommodation was ever made and no prior incidents of bullying or harassment involving plaintiff were observed or reported by the school prior to the assault during the football game. View "Csutoras v. Paradise High School" on Justia Law

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Amy Williamson petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on State-agent immunity. Twenty-year-old Re.W. was a student in the CrossingPoints program, a collaborative program between the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education that served college-aged students with mental disabilities. Williamson was a teacher in the program and an employee of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and Amy Burnett was a "para-educator" with the program. In 2015, Williamson and Burnett transported Re.W. and three other students to various businesses to submit job applications. While Williamson and Burnett took two students into a Lowe's home-improvement store to submit applications, Re.W. and a male student stayed in the CrossingPoints van. Re.W. stated that, during the short time that the others were inside the store, the male student touched her on her breast and between her legs. In 2019, Re.W., by and through her parents and next friends, Ro.W. and V.W., sued Williamson on counts of negligent, wanton, and/or willful failure to perform ministerial acts and the tort of outrage. Williamson filed an answer to the complaint denying the material allegations and asserted multiple affirmative defenses. Williamson later moved for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Re.W.'s claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Williamson established that, at the time of the incident, she was performing a discretionary function, and because the Court concluded Re.W. did not present any evidence to establish that an exception to State-agent immunity applied, Williamson established that she was entitled to State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Williamson's motion for a summary judgment, and directed to enter a summary judgment for Williamson. View "Ex parte Amy Williamson." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a cheerleader at Kennesaw State University, filed suit alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985(3) after she and her teammates kneeled during the pre-game national anthem at one of the university's football games to protest police brutality against African Americans and to advance the cause of racial justice. Plaintiff claimed that there was a public and private conspiracy to deprive her and her teammates of their First Amendment rights. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred by dismissing plaintiff's section 1985(3) claim against the sheriff.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's claim against the sheriff, agreeing with the district court that plaintiff failed to surmount section 1985(3)'s class-based animus bar under the standard established by Supreme Court precedent. The court concluded that plaintiff's direct race-based theory cannot succeed because she failed to plead sufficient facts supporting it; plaintiff's indirect race-based claim failed to allege animus under Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263 (1993); and plaintiff's political class-based theory is also precluded by Bray. View "Dean v. Warren" on Justia Law

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South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sought a declaration by the South Carolina Supreme Court concerning the use of facemasks in the public schools of South Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic. The Court construed Proviso 117.190 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act relating to public institutions of higher learning, and determined from the language in that proviso that the University of South Carolina was not precluded from issuing a universal mask mandate that applied equally to vaccinated and unvaccinated students and faculty alike. This case involved a different proviso from the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act: Proviso 1.108, relating to public schools serving students grades kindergarten through 12 (K-12). Proviso 1.108 manifestly set forth the intent of the legislature to prohibit mask mandates funded by the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act in K-12 public schools. The Attorney General contended the City of Columbia passed ordinances in direct opposition to Proviso 1.108, mandating masks in all K-12 public schools in the City of Columbia. "While allowing school districts flexibility to encourage one policy or the other, the state legislature has elected to leave the ultimate decision to parents. Conversely, the City of Columbia has attempted to mandate masks for all school children by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which has the effect of disallowing parents a say in the matter." The Supreme Court upheld Proviso 1.108 and declared void the challenged ordinances of the City of Columbia insofar as they purported to impose a mask mandate in K-12 public schools. View "Wilson v. City of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Yu, a Chinese international student, enrolled in ISU's Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology in 2008. He completed the requisite four years of instruction and successfully defended his dissertation but failed to complete a mandatory professional internship consisting of 2,000 clinical hours. Several of Yu’s supervisors commented on his limited English language fluency and that Yu had trouble “form[ing] alliances” with clients and patients, and possessed limited “ability to adjust treatment.” Dr. Landers, Yu's supervisor, dismissed Yu, later testifying that Yu was never able “to grasp the communication nuances that are required” and noting the vulnerability of the patients, who were particularly high risk. After Yu was dismissed from the internship, ISU dismissed Yu from the Program.Yu filed suit, alleging that ISU violated Title VI because it intentionally discriminated against him based on his race or national origin. Yu presented the expert testimony of Dr. Zorwick that Yu was a victim of “aversive racism,” comparable to “unconscious” or “implicit” bias. The district court ruled in favor of ISU. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Evidence of unconscious bias against a protected class in an appropriate case may be probative of whether an entity has intentionally discriminated in a Title VI case but the question is factual, and here the court permissibly found that ISU did not intentionally discriminate. View "Yu v. Idaho State University" on Justia Law