Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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Benjamin was hired as headmaster at the k-12, non-denominational, faith-based Epiphany School. Epiphany community members “evaluated Benjamin on various criteria[,] including ‘Christian Tradition.’” Benjamin, who describes himself as a Quaker of Jewish ethnicity, alleges that he was told by a board member that Epiphany community members did not see him as a “true Christian.” Benjamin’s time at Epiphany was marked by conflicts with students, parents, faculty, and staff. According to Defendants, Benjamin was hostile, inattentive to deadlines, and frequently absent from school events. According to Benjamin, the conflicts were driven by hostility toward his Jewish background, Quaker faith, and efforts to promote diversity. The Board held a forum at which Benjamin gave a speech explaining his religious beliefs. The parties disagree as to whether this speech was voluntary and as to whether Benjamin resigned or was terminated.Benjamin sued, alleging retaliation; discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, and disability; breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic relations; false imprisonment; assault; and violation of the North Carolina School Violence Prevention Act. The district court rejected some claims on summary judgment; a jury rejected the others. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, upholding rulings preventing Benjamin from introducing certain deposition testimony, implementing time limits for each side’s presentation of its case, admitting evidence about Benjamin’s misrepresentations regarding his prior employment, and declining to adopt Benjamin’s proposed jury instructions and verdict form for the breach of contract and defamation claims. View "Benjamin v. Sparks" on Justia Law

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Defendant Milton Town School District and plaintiff, a high-school football player who sued the District after being assaulted by team members during an off-campus team dinner at the residence of one of the players, both appealed various trial court rulings and the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following a five-day trial. Plaintiff sued the District in 2017 claiming negligent supervision and a violation of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA) in connection with his assault at the hands of fellow football team members at an on off-campus dinner in the fall of 2012. At that time, Plaintiff was a freshman, and the District was aware that members of the football team had a history of harassment, including sexual assaults and hazing, against underclassmen team members. In October 2012, nine or ten members of the team, including plaintiff, attended a team dinner at one of the player’s parents’ home. At some point that evening, plaintiff was dragged down to the basement and thrown onto a couch, where one player held plaintiff down while another player forcibly inserted a pool cue into plaintiff’s rectum. The school principal spoke to plaintiff and another football player after learning that some incoming freshman did not want to play football because they had heard rumors of team members using broomsticks to initiate new team members. When the principal told plaintiff that she would shut down the football program if the rumors proved to be true, plaintiff denied the rumors because he feared retaliation from other students for causing the football program to be shut down. The principal then directed plaintiff to speak to the incoming freshman and tell him he had lied about the use of broomsticks during the initiation of new team members. When the principal informed the district superintendent about the rumors, the superintendent declined to do anything further. In April 2014, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) opened an investigation into allegations concerning the Milton High School football team. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney later filed criminal charges against five Milton High School football players, including plaintiff’s attackers, all of whom pled guilty to criminal offenses related to harassment, hazing, and assault. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion by denying plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that plaintiffs will likely succeed in showing that, as applied, the Dual Enrollment Program's "publicly funded" requirement violated their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In this case, A.H., her parents, and the Diocese filed suit against the Agency of Education after A.H.'s application for public funding to the program was denied solely because of her school's religious status.The court concluded that, in these circumstances, the State's reliance on the "publicly funded" requirement as a condition for program eligibility imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion, because it forced Rice Memorial High School, a ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, to chose whether to participate in an otherwise available benefit program or remain a religious institution. At the same time, the requirement puts A.H.'s family to a choice between sending their child to a religious school or receiving benefits. In light of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012, 2021 (2017), the court explained that the denial of a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity can be justified only by a state interest of the highest order. In this case, the Agency has not identified any compelling interest that could survive strict scrutiny. The court also concluded that the remaining preliminary injunction factors favor a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and granted the motion for a preliminary injunction. View "A.H. v. French" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a claim for wrongful termination of employment could not be asserted under the Teacher Tenure Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 49-5-501 to -515, by classifying a tenured teacher's resignation as a constructive discharge rather than a voluntary quit.After Plaintiff, a tenured teacher, quit her teaching position she sued for wrongful termination under the Teacher Tenure Act, alleging that she was constructively discharged. The amended complaint also asserted other claims. The trial court granted summary judgment against Plaintiff. The appellate court reversed the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim under the Act, concluding that the doctrine of constructive discharge could give rise to a wrongful termination claim under the Act. The court of appeals otherwise affirmed the trial court. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) constructive discharge is not applicable to wrongful termination claims under the Act; and (2) the lower courts properly dismissed Plaintiff's remaining claims. View "Lemon v. Williamson County Schools" on Justia Law

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After the University terminated her employment as the head coach of the women's basketball team, plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as state-law claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and invasion of privacy.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the breach of contract and Title IX claims. The court concluded that judgment in favor of plaintiff on the breach of contract claim was proper where a reasonable jury could have concluded that plaintiff's management of funds did not give the University cause to terminate her employment. Furthermore, the University was not entitled to a new trial on plaintiff's breach of contract claim. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to provide the requested jury instruction and any error on the district court's part was harmless. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that denial of plaintiff's jury instruction was not an abuse of discretion or grounds for a new trial. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to the privacy claim and concluded that it failed as a matter of law. The court explained that the facts disclosed by the University were of legitimate concern to the public and the district court clearly erred in concluding otherwise. View "Taylor-Travis v. Jackson State University" on Justia Law

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The Rockland County, New York school district is 65.7% white, 19.1% black, 10.7% Latino, and 3.3% Asian. In 2017-2018, 8,843 students attended public schools, while 29,279 students attended private schools, primarily Jewish yeshivas; 92% of public school students are black or Latino, while 98% of private-school students are white. School board candidates run for a specific seat in at-large elections; all eligible district voters vote in each race. Influential members of the private-school community have an informal slating process by which Board candidates are selected and promoted. An Orthodox Rabbi controls a slating organization that has secured victory for the white community’s preferred candidate in each contested election. Although the Organization has slated some successful minority candidates, minority voters did not prefer these candidates. Only those with connections to the Organization have been selected. When vetted, candidates were not asked about their policy views.The Second Circuit affirmed that the election system resulted in dilution of black and Latino votes, violating the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. 10301. The Act does not require a finding that racial motivations caused election results. The court properly relied on expert findings, that used data derived through Bayesian Improved Surname Geocoding rather than the traditional Citizen Voting Age Population data. The totality of the circumstances supports a finding of impermissible vote dilution, given the near-perfect correlation between race and school-type; the scant evidence that policy preferences caused election results; the blatant neglect of minority needs; the lack of minority-preferred election success; the white-dominated slating organization; and the District's bad faith throughout the litigation. View "Clerveaux v. East Ramapo Central School District" on Justia Law

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Kellogg testified that when the Indiana Academy hired her as a teacher in 2006, its director, Dr. Williams, told her that she “didn’t need any more [starting salary, $32,000], because he knew [her] husband worked.” In 2017, Kellogg complained to the Dean of Ball State’s Teacher’s College, which oversees the Academy, that she received less pay than her similarly-situated male colleagues. The Dean responded that “[t]he issue [wa]s salary compression, which means those who [we]re hired after [Kellogg] began at a higher salary.” The Dean also noted that Kellogg’s salary increased by 36.45% during her time at the Academy while her colleagues’ salaries increased by less. In Kellogg’s 2018 lawsuit, the district court granted the Academy summary judgment, reasoning that there were undisputed gender-neutral explanations for Kellogg’s pay.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Williams’s statement contradicts the Academy’s explanations for Kellogg’s pay and puts them in dispute. It does not matter that Williams uttered the statement long ago, outside the statute of limitations period. Under the paycheck accrual rule, Williams’s statement can establish liability because it affected paychecks that Kellogg received within the limitations window. Kellogg can rely on Williams’s statement to put the Academy’s explanations in dispute. View "Kellogg v. Ball State University" on Justia Law

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The Health Department issued a resolution closing every school in the county—public, private, and parochial—for grades 7-12, effective December 4, to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the same county, gyms, tanning salons, office buildings, and a large casino remained open. Christian schools filed suit, arguing that the closure of their schools amounts to a prohibition of religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment.The Sixth Circuit, applying strict scrutiny, enjoined enforcement pending appeal, concluding that the closure burdens the plaintiffs' religious practices. The court noted that the schools employed “strict social distancing and hygiene standards” and that “little in-school transmission has been documented.” The court acknowledged that the resolution allowed schools to open for religious education classes or religious ceremonies and that the Department has not targeted the plaintiffs or acted with animus toward religion. The plaintiffs argued that the exercise of their faith is not compartmentalized and pervades each day of in-person schooling so that “a communal in-person environment” is critical to the exercise of their faith. The resolution treats the schools less favorably than it does “comparable secular facilities.” The court rejected an argument that it could consider only the secular actors (other schools) regulated by the resolution. The relevant inquiry is whether the “government, in pursuit of legitimate interests,” has imposed greater burdens on religious conduct than on analogous secular conduct, including gyms, salons, offices, and the Hollywood Casino, which remain open. View "Monclova Christian Academy v. Toledo-Lucas County. Health Department" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an elementary school student who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and severe, disability-related behavioral issues, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging that the school district denied him equal access to a public education because of his disability. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that plaintiff failed to exhaust his claim through the administrative procedures prescribed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as required when a plaintiff seeks relief under other federal statutes for the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal and held that a close review of plaintiff's allegations reveals that the gravamen of his ADA claim is discrimination separate from his right to a FAPE. Therefore, the panel concluded that plaintiff's ADA claim is not subject to IDEA exhaustion. Finally, the panel concluded that there is nothing untoward—or inconsistent with Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017)—in plaintiff's having followed resolution of his IDEA claims with a lawsuit alleging non-FAPE-based violations of another statute. View "D. D. v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

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After the school districts sought modification of existing desegregation consent decrees to allow their exemption from Arkansas's Public School Choice Act, Ark. Code. Ann. 6–18–1906, the district court granted the motions and modified the consent decrees to explicitly limit the transfer of students between school districts. The Department appealed, alleging that the modification imposed an impermissible interdistrict remedy.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that there was a substantial change in Arkansas law after the consent decrees were enacted and the district court's modification was not an impermissible interdistrict remedy. The court explained that the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering and crediting evidence of white flight when it determined that a substantial change in circumstances had occurred warranting modification of the consent decrees. Furthermore, based on the court's review of the record and the large degree of deference given to the district court, the court could not find that the district court abused its discretion in modifying the consent decrees. View "United States v. Arkansas Department of Education" on Justia Law