Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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In February 2016, C.M. was six years old and in first grade, when he exhibited behavioral problems. The school district determined that he was ineligible for special education and related services because he was not disabled and did not need them. The child’s parents disagreed and sought redress under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In their administrative grievance, they asserted that the school district violated its statutory obligation to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities, thereby denying their child his statutory right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The parents’ claims did not succeed at the administrative level or in the district court. In April 2017, C.M. was diagnosed with autism. The school developed an individualized education program, which his parents agreed to in August 2017, shortly before their son entered third grade. In July 2019, C.M. enrolled in a private school.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the school district; the district did not violate its “child find” obligations nor deprive C.M. of a FAPE before April 2017. The parents have not exhausted administrative remedies on their claim for tuition reimbursement. View "J. M. v. Summit City Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Lawyers brought claims against schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. After the claims failed, the schools sought their attorney’s fees from the lawyers under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The School Districts alleged that, during the administrative process, the attorneys presented sloppy pleadings, asserted factually inaccurate or legally irrelevant allegations, and needlessly prolonged the proceedings. The lawyers asked their insurer, Wesco, to pay the fees. Wesco refused on the ground that the requested attorney’s fees fell within the insurance policy’s exclusion for “sanctions.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wesco. The IDEA makes attorney misconduct a prerequisite to a fee award against a party’s lawyer, so the policy exclusion applied. The court noted that the legal community routinely describes an attorney’s fees award as a “sanction” when a court grants it because of abusive litigation tactics. View "Wesco Insurance Co. v. Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP" on Justia Law

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In September 2016, Christopher Strickland, Jr., a sophomore at Northwest Rankin High School, was at Choctaw Trails in Clinton, Mississippi, preparing to run a cross- country meet. Before the race, a wasp stung Christopher on the top of his head. According to Christopher, a lump began to form and his head felt tight, like it was swelling. Christopher told one of his coaches. According to affidavits submitted by the Rankin County School District (RCSD), two coaches and a registered nurse, who was there to watch her son race, examined Christopher’s head and found no evidence of a sting or adverse reaction. And Christopher assured them he was fine and wanted to run the race. But Christopher recalled only one coach examining him. And this coach told him to “man up” and run the race. Christopher ran the race. According to one of his coaches, she checked in on him at the mile marker. He responded that he was “okay, just hot.” According to Christopher, after the mile marker he began to feel dizzy. Then he fell, hitting his head. The same nurse attended to him. So did her husband, who was a neurologist. Christopher appeared to recover and rejoined his team after the race. But he later went to a doctor, who discovered injuries to his brain and spine. In January 2017, Christopher’s father, Christopher Strickland, Sr. (Strickland), sued RCSD on Christopher’s behalf. He alleged various breaches of duties in how RCSD employees acted both (1) after the wasp sting but before the race and (2) after Christopher’s fall. Specifically, Strickland alleged that, after the fall, RCSD employees failed to follow the district’s concussion protocol. The Mississippi Supreme Court surmised "much legal analysis has been aimed at whether the actions of two cross-country coaches were discretionary policy decisions entitled to immunity from suit under Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9(1)(d) (Rev. 2019)." But on certiorari review, the Court found this question to be moot: the alleged actions of the coaches do not establish any triable claim for negligence. For that reason, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the Rankin County School District. View "Strickland v. Rankin County School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff C. Achay was a student on a high school track team, which usually practiced after school until 5:30 p.m. One day practice ended early, so Achay and her friend walked to Starbucks and returned about 45 minutes later. On the way back to the open campus, they encountered a stranger who Achay thought was “suspicious.” Someone identified him as A. Meer, a former student who was “kind of weird.” Achay retrieved her schoolbooks from the girls’ locker room, which was to be locked at 6:00 p.m. While Achay was walking from the girls’ locker room to the school parking lot she was stabbed by Meer, suffering serious injuries. Achay sued defendant Huntington Beach Union High School District (the District) for negligence. The District moved for summary judgment on the grounds of duty and causation. The trial court granted the motion, finding the District owed Achay no duty of care because at the time of the stabbing, she “was no longer on campus during school hours during a school-related activity.” To this the Court of Appeal disagreed: at the time of the stabbing, Achay was on campus to retrieve her books from an open locker room after her track practice and another sports team was still practicing nearby. “Achay’s brief departure from school is a red herring.” Alternatively, the trial court stated it “cannot assume that more security would have prevented the incident from occurring.” But the Court found that was “plainly a triable issue of material fact: whether the District used reasonable security measures to protect Achay from an arguably preventable injury at the hands of Meer.” Thus, the Court reversed the trial court’s order, which granted the District’s motion for summary judgment. View "Achay v. Huntington Beach Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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In this case arising from House Bill 102 (HB 102), the Supreme Court held that the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education (Board) has the sole authority under the Montana Constitution to set policy regarding the possession of firearms on the Montana University System property.In 2021, the legislature enacted HB 102, which generally revised gun laws with respect to open and concealed carry of firearms. HB 102 also nullified a Board policy that limited the use of and access to firearms on campuses of the Montana University System (MUS). The district court concluded that HB 102 was unconstitutional as applied to the Board because it violated the Board's constitutional authority to regulate MUS campuses. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) campus safety and security is an integral responsibility of the Board's constitutional authority; (2) the regulation of firearms on MUS campuses falls squarely within this authority; and (3) as applied to the Board, certain sections of HB 102 unconstitutionally infringe upon the Board's constitutionally-derived authority. View "Board of Regents of Higher Education v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court enjoining Education Freedom PAC (EFP) from circulating an initiative petition for signatures and enjoining the Secretary of State from including the initiative on the ballot, holding that the initiative fell short of meeting constitutional requirements.The initiative at issue would amend the Nevada Constitution to require the legislature to establish education freedom accounts for parents to use to pay for their child's education if that child is educated outside of the uniform system of common schools. Respondents filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the petition. The district court concluded that the initiative was invalid for three reasons. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) properly denied EFP's request to dismiss the complaint; and (2) properly enjoined the EFP initiative's circulation and placement on the ballot because the initiative failed to comply with constitutional requirements. View "Education Freedom PAC v. Reid" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was transferred from a class where she instructed emotionally disturbed (“ED”) children to a class where Plaintiff worked with children with moderate intellectual disabilities. Plaintiff alleged that one of her students sexually harassed her between fall 2018 through mid-March 2019. This student, S.M., was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). Although the teacher in the classroom recorded the incidents in her notes, or “point sheets,” where she detailed each student’s daily behavior, Plaintiff claims the teacher was generally dismissive of her concerns. After exhausting her remedies with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed suit against the Chesterfield County School Board (“the School Board”) alleging that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted the School Board’s motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that the record does not support a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot primarily rely upon her own statements to argue that S.M.’s conduct surpassed what could be expected of an eight-year-old child with his disabilities after two special education experts testified that it did not—instead, she is required by law to demonstrate it. Further, even if Plaintiff established that S.M. targeted her because of sex, she would still be unable to meet the third required element—that is, show that S.M.’s conduct rose to the level of severe or pervasive. View "Regina Webster v. Chesterfield County School Board" on Justia Law

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Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach after he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet personal prayer. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Kennedy’s claims against the school district. The Supreme Court reversed. The Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression. The district acted on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech.A plaintiff may demonstrate a free exercise violation by showing that a government entity has burdened his sincere religious practice pursuant to a policy that is not “neutral” or “generally applicable,” triggering strict scrutiny. Kennedy seeks to engage in a sincerely motivated religious exercise that does not involve students; the district’s policies were neither neutral nor generally applicable. The district sought to restrict Kennedy’s actions at least in part because of their religious character.Kennedy established a Free Speech Clause violation. When an employee “speaks as a citizen addressing a matter of public concern,” courts should engage in “a delicate balancing of the competing interests surrounding the speech and its consequences.” Kennedy was not engaged in speech “ordinarily within the scope” of his coaching duties. His prayers occurred during the postgame period when coaches were free to attend to personal matters and students were engaged in other activities.In place of the “Lemon” and “endorsement” tests, courts should look “to historical practices and understandings.” A rule that the only acceptable government role models for students are those who eschew any visible religious expression would undermine a long constitutional tradition of tolerating diverse expressive activities. View "Kennedy v. Bremerton School District" on Justia Law

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In 2015, John and Jane were students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). On September 7, they went to a party together and then had a sexual encounter. The next day, a dispute arose about whether the encounter was consensual. Jane filed a police report, which led to an investigation but no criminal charges. Jane filed a complaint with UCSB’s Title IX and Sexual Harassment Policy Compliance Office, 20 U.S.C. 1681. An investigator opined that John sexually assaulted Jane and recommended that John be suspended for three years. A Review Committee denied John’s appeal.John sought judicial review; his petition named only the University; Jane is described as a “[n]on-party.” The trial court granted John’s petition, finding that John was not afforded procedural due process during the University’s investigation. Jane moved to vacate the order on the ground that she did not receive notice of or an opportunity to participate in, the writ proceeding. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Jane’s motion. While Jane’s interests were affected by the mandate proceeding, such that she may have been a real party in interest or a necessary party, she has not established that she was an indispensable party. Nor has she established that the absence of even an indispensable party is grounds to void a judgment. View "Doe v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was raped by a fellow student two weeks after starting at the University of Washington. Plaintiff later learned that two other students had reported the same individual for unwanted sexual advances and contact. Plaintiff filed Title IX and common-law negligence claims against the University in the district court, which granted summary judgment to the University after finding that the University did not owe Plaintiff a duty of care. Plaintiff appealed.The Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court:1. Does Washington law recognize a special relationship between a university and its students giving rise to a duty to use reasonable care to protect students from foreseeable injury at the hands of other students?2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, what is the measure and scope of that duty? View "MADELEINE BARLOW V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" on Justia Law