Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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Three Pennsylvania teachers who obtained tenure contracts under the state’s Public School Code brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Scranton School District deprived them of rights under the Contracts Clause when it applied a Pennsylvania law, Act 2017-55, to suspend them from employment. Act 55 amended the Public School Code to authorize the suspension of tenured teachers for economic reasons. Act 55 took effect after the plaintiffs entered into tenure contracts; they claimed the change in the law allowing for their suspensions based on economic reasons amounted to a substantial impairment of their tenure contract rights and that the suspensions were not a necessary or reasonable way to address the District’s financial problems.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim. The teachers failed to state a section 1983 claim premised on the Contracts Clause because their complaint and its exhibits show that the suspensions were necessary and reasonable measures to advance the significant and legitimate public purpose of combatting the budget shortage. View "Watters v. Board of School Directors of the City of Scranton" on Justia Law

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D.S., a child with a disability who receives special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), appealed the district court's denial of his motion for summary judgment and grant of the Board's motion for summary judgment. After the child's parents disagreed with the functional behavioral assessment (FBA) that his school conducted, they sought an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense.The Second Circuit held that an FBA is not an evaluation as that term is employed in the relevant IDEA provisions and that a parent's dissatisfaction with an FBA does not entitle them to a publicly funded IEE. In regard to the parents' disagreement with the child's 2014 reevaluation, the court held that parents need not file a due process complaint under the IDEA to disagree with an evaluation and that the statute of limitations does not apply here. Rather, the court held that the IDEA's cyclical evaluation process establishes the operative time frame in which a parent may disagree with an evaluation and obtain an IEE at public expense. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment, reversed the district court's decision, and remanded for further proceedings. View "D.S. v. Trumbull Board of Education" on Justia Law

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On October 25, 2011, Appellant Nicole B.’s then-eight-year-old son N.B. was sexually assaulted by three of his male fourth-grade classmates in a bathroom at his public elementary school in the City of Philadelphia. According to Appellant, N.B. had endured two months of pervasive physical and verbal harassment at school leading up to the sexual assault. During that time, both Appellant and N.B. reported the harassment to his teacher and to school administrators, to no avail. In November 2011, Appellant withdrew N.B. from the elementary school after learning of the attack. Over two years later, in 2014, Appellant filed an administrative complaint with the Human Relations Commission against the Philadelphia School District (“District”) in her individual capacity and on N.B.’s behalf, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of gender and race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The Human Relations Commission rejected Appellant’s complaint as untimely, because it was filed beyond the 180-day time limit. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether principles of equitable tolling found in PHRA, or Pennsylvania’s Minority Tolling Statute (“Minority Tolling Statute”), applied to an otherwise untimely complaint. After review, the Supreme Court found the PHRA’s equitable tolling provision applied to a minor whose parent failed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations for filing an administrative complaint prior to the minor reaching the age of majority. By this finding, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former medical school professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, filed suit against various professors and school administrators under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that they violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights. Defendants voted to recommend firing plaintiff after conducting a hearing to address a student's sexual harassment claim against him.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity and rendered judgment in favor of defendants, holding that plaintiff's deprivations of due process were not clearly established constitutional rights. In this case, the court found no merit in plaintiff's claim that one of the defendants was not impartial because the defendant knew the accuser in a university proceeding, and concluded that this was not enough to establish a due process claim of bias. The court also held that, although the Committee should have heard the accuser's testimony, it was not clearly established at the time that, in university disciplinary hearings where the outcome depends on credibility, the Due Process Clause demands the opportunity to confront witnesses or some reasonable alternative. Therefore, the district court erred in denying defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Walsh v. Hodge" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a civil rights action alleging that school administrators discriminated against him because he is an African American male. In this case, on the first day of high school, the Dean of Students asked teachers to send students with dyed hair to his office. All the students sent to the Dean's office were African American. The Dean and the Principal did not let plaintiff attend class that day because of his "two toned" blonde hairstyle. Although many students of all races, male and female, wore dyed hair to school, plaintiff was the only one disciplined for violating the school's hair policy during the school year. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's intentional discrimination claim was untimely, but his harassment claim was timely based on the continuing violation doctrine. The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's harassment claims under Title VI and Title IX against the Board, holding that plaintiff plausibly alleged that the Dean's harassment of plaintiff stemmed from a discriminatory view that African American males should not have two-toned blonde hair. Furthermore, the harassment may well have been so severe, pervasive, and offensive that it denied plaintiff an educational benefit, and it is plausible that the school board knew about the harassment, did little to ensure plaintiff was safe, and was therefore deliberately indifferent. However, the court held that plaintiff has not pleaded that the school board officials were deliberately indifferent to the Dean's retaliatory conduct. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim. View "Sewell v. Monroe City School Board" on Justia Law

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Two nurses, employed by the Board of Education, claim that the School Board retaliated against them for advocating for the rights of students who are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701; and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act; and that the Board violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act by retaliating against them for reporting a parent’s suspected child neglect to a state agency. One plaintiff also claimed that the School Board failed to accommodate her disability and constructively discharged her, in violation of the ADA and the KCRA. The district court granted the Board summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed as to the retaliation claims under the ADA, Section 504, and the KCRA. A jury could “reasonably doubt” the Board’s explanation for its actions and find that it acted, at least in part, because of the protected advocacy. The court affirmed as to the whistleblower claims; the plaintiffs only allege that they reported a mother of possible neglect and do not allege that they reported any violation of law by their employer to a state agency. The court affirmed as to the individual claim for failure to accommodate disabilities. The nurse failed to provide any documentation about her disability diagnosis during the interactive process. View "Kirilenko-Ison v. Board of Education of Danville Independent Schools" on Justia Law

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Cynthia Anthony, former interim president of Shelton State Community College; William Ashley, then-president of Shelton State; and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System ("the ACCS") (collectively, "the college defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Khristy Large and Robert Pressley, current instructors at Shelton State, and Scheree Datcher, a former instructor at Shelton State (collectively, "the instructor plaintiffs"). Large and Pressley were instructors in the Office Administration Department ("OAD") at Shelton State; Datcher was an OAD instructor, now retired. Under college policy, an instructor was placed into one of three groups based on the instructor's "teaching area": Group A, Group B, or Group C. After an instructor was placed into a group, the instructor was ranked within the group for salary purposes according to criteria listed in the policy. The primary issue in this case was whether the instructor plaintiffs should be placed in Group A or Group B. In 2013, Joan Davis, then-interim president of Shelton State, concluded that Datcher and Pressley should have been reclassified from Group A to Group B, contrary to their credentialing document. Datcher and Pressley received higher salaries by being reclassified to Group B. When Large was hired to be an OAD instructor in 2013, she was also placed in Group B. In 2016, Chancellor Heinrich directed Anthony, then interim president, to review instructors' classifications to make sure they were properly classified. Anthony determined the instructor plaintiffs should have been classified as Group A, in accordance with the credentialing document. Thus, she reclassified the instructor plaintiffs to Group A, which resulted in decreased salaries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the instructor plaintiffs, concluding that they are properly classified in Group B under the policy and ordering that the instructor plaintiffs be placed in Group B. The trial court also awarded the instructor plaintiffs backpay for the period following Anthony's reclassification, during which they were classified as Group A instead of Group B. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the placement of OAD instructors in Group A was "plainly incorrect." Because the college defendants lacked discretion to classify the instructor plaintiffs as Group A, the claims for backpay against them in their official capacities were not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. When Anthony left her position as interim president, her successor was automatically substituted for her with respect to the official-capacity claims alleged against her; judgment should not have been entered against her. Therefore, judgment was reversed insofar as it was entered against Anthony. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former student at the University, filed suit against the Board of Trustees and several university officials, claiming that they violated his rights in a disciplinary action against him. This case stemmed from another University student's accusation against plaintiff for sexual assault. After the initial decision by the Title IX coordinator finding no misconduct, the other student herself publicly criticized the University's decision. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that the University was under pressure and fearful of sanctions from the Office for Civil Rights, so it took steps harmful to him to alleviate and lessen the scrutiny that it was attracting from the other student's media blitz and protests. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Eighth Circuit held that the complaint stated a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that is plausible on its face. First, the allegations in the complaint support an inference that the hearing panel reached an outcome that was against the substantial weight of the evidence. Second, the panel's chosen sanctions are allegedly contrary to the ordinary disposition in cases of sexual assault by force. Third, plaintiff alleged that the University was under pressure on multiple fronts to find males responsible for sexual assault. The court held that these circumstances, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex. However, the court held that plaintiff's due process claims against the University officials in their official and individual capacities were properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville" on Justia Law

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Individual parents of Hindu children in the California public schools and CAPEEM filed suit against the State Department of Education and State Board of Education, claiming discrimination against the Hindu religion in the content of the History-Social Science Standards and Framework for sixth and seventh graders.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the challenged content of the Standards and Framework, and process leading up to the Framework's adoption, did not disparage or otherwise express hostility to Hinduism in violation of the Constitution. The panel held that the district court properly dismissed the Equal Protection claims where the district court correctly characterized plaintiffs' claims as an indirect attack on curricula; Monteiro v. Tempe Union School District, 158 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 1998), bars plaintiffs' claims; and plaintiffs' dislike of challenged content does not constitute a violation of Equal Protection, absent a plausible allegation of discriminatory policy or intent.In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Free Exercise clause, the panel held that the complaint did not allege interference with plaintiffs' exercise of their religion under the Constitution as required for a viable Free Exercise claim under Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 140 S. Ct. 2246, 2252 (2020). Furthermore, there are no expressions of hostility here as there was in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 138 S.Ct. 1719 (2018).In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim, the panel held that parents have the right to choose the educational forum, but not what takes place inside the school. The panel stated that parents do not have a due process right to interfere with the curriculum, discipline, hours of instruction, or the nature of any other curricular or extracurricular activities. Finally, in regard to the First Amendment Establishment clause claims, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to consider plaintiffs' expert report in its analysis; the Standards and Framework do not call for the teaching of biblical events or figures as historical fact, thereby implicitly endorsing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and none of plaintiffs' characterizations of the Hinduism materials as disparaging was supported by an objective reading of those materials. View "California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials v. Torlakson" on Justia Law

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A.C.'s Westside eighth-grade class watched a video about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. During a “critical thinking” discussion, the teacher insisted that A.C. share her ideas. A.C. stated that “kneeling was disrespectful to law enforcement and military," and questioned that violence could have stemmed from music lyrics including "F-the Police, and the use of the N-word.’” A.C. stayed home the next day due to illness. The teacher allegedly told students that A.C. was a racist and was on suspension. A.C. was subjected to bullying. After meeting with school officials, her parents removed A.C. from school. A.C. attempted suicide. Her parents contacted eight lawyers. but were unable to retain one.On behalf of A.C., they filed the pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The court ruled that they could not serve pro se as A.C.’s representatives and lacked standing to bring individual claims that only derive from alleged violations of their child’s constitutional rights. They contacted 27 more lawyers and organizations. They refiled, requesting court-appointed counsel. The district court refused, reasoning that the claims were “not likely to be of substance,” and that A.C. lacked standing for declaratory and injunctive relief, as she was no longer a student at Westside. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that the parents may not represent A.C. pro se but remanded with directions to appoint counsel. The court did not err in considering the potential merit of the claims and other relevant factors in deciding whether to request counsel but the allegation of First Amendment retaliation is a serious claim on which the plaintiffs and the court would benefit from the assistance of counsel. View "Crozier v. Westside Community School District" on Justia Law