Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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In February 2017, students at Rubidoux High School (RHS) participated in a protest; approximately one quarter of the student body boycotted school for a day. Plaintiff-appellant, Patricia Crawford, a guidance counselor at RHS, criticized the students who boycotted in an e-mail to a colleague and by leaving several comments on a RHS teacher’s public Facebook post that was similarly critical of the boycotting students. Some students and others considered the post and Crawford’s comments on the post to be offensive. The Facebook post “went viral,” and a public outcry against Crawford and other RHS teachers’ comments ensued, resulting in nationwide media attention, a RHS student protest against the teachers, and a flurry of e-mails to RHS administration from the public. Real party in interest, Jurupa Unified School District (the District), dismissed Crawford on the grounds that her conduct was “immoral” and showed that she was “evidently unfit for service” under Education Code section 44932. Defendant-respondent, the Commission on Public Competence of the Jurupa Unified School District (CPC), upheld Crawford’s dismissal, as did the trial court. On appeal, Crawford suggested there were three fixed categories of conduct that constituted "immoral conduct" as a matter of law, and her conduct did not fit into any of them. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: "A teacher’s conduct is therefore 'immoral' under [Education Code] section 44932 (a)(1) when it negatively affects the school community in a way that demonstrates the teacher is 'unfit to teach.'" The Court affirmed the trial court's finding that the weight of the evidence supported CPC's finding that Crawford engaged in immoral conduct and was evidently unfit to serve. View "Crawford v. Comm. on Prof. Competence etc." on Justia Law

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A.K., age 13, missed his school bus, which arrived at his stop seven minutes before its official scheduled time of arrival. A.K. ran home to retrieve his bicycle. A.K.’s father heard A.K. shout that he was going to ride his bike to school. While riding to school, A.K. was struck by a truck and suffered severe injuries. The parents sued the truck’s driver in state court but settled that claim.Durham (the bus company) argued that it did not owe a duty of care because A.K. never came into Durham’s custody or control on the date of the accident but returned home, to the custody and care of his father. The plaintiffs argued that Durham could have prevented the driver from leaving A.K.’s bus stop before the scheduled time had it followed its own policies and that the early departure breached a duty of care and was the proximate cause of A.K.’s injuries.Pursuant to Durham’s affirmative defense of comparative negligence, a jury allocated fault: 56 percent to the parents, 28 percent to the truck’s driver, and 16 percent to Durham. Because the parents were more than 50 percent at fault, the court entered judgment in Durham’s favor, as required by Tennessee law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding rulings preventing the parents from introducing Durham’s employee handbook or testimony regarding its internal policies. View "A. K. v. Durham School Services, L.P." on Justia Law

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Congress enacted an appropriations rider in 2009 prohibiting the District of Columbia from paying more than $4,000 in attorneys' fees for any past proceeding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At issue in these 11 consolidated cases was whether the District must pay interest on amounts that exceed the payment cap.After determining that the District did not forfeit the interest issue, the court held that the District cannot be compelled to pay interest on the portion of fee awards that it has been legally prohibited from paying off. The court explained that this case implicates a well-established common-law principle: If the law makes a debt unpayable, then interest on the debt is also unpayable. Furthermore, the court had no basis to conclude that 28 U.S.C. 1961(a) abrogated this background rule. The court reversed the district court's judgment requiring payment of interest on above-cap fees, affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate and a transgender young man, filed suit against the school board through his next friend and mother, alleging violations of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment granting plaintiff relief on both claims and held that the school district's policy barring plaintiff from the boys' restroom does not square with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and Title IX's prohibition of sex discrimination. Applying heightened scrutiny, the court held that the record does not demonstrate that the school board has met its "demanding" constitutional burden by showing a substantial relationship between excluding transgender students from communal restrooms and student privacy. In this case, the policy is administered arbitrarily; the school board's privacy concerns about plaintiff's use of the boys' bathroom are merely hypothesized, with no support in the factual record; and the bathroom policy subjects plaintiff to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person. Therefore, because the record reveals no substantial relationship between privacy in the school district restrooms and excluding plaintiff from the boys' restroom, the bathroom policy violates the Equal Protection Clause.Applying the Supreme Court's recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), the court held that excluding plaintiff from the boys' bathroom amounts to sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. The court explained that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on their transgender status; the school district treated plaintiff differently because of his transgender status and this different treatment caused him harm; and nothing in Title IX's regulations or any administrative guidance on Title IX excuses the discriminatory policy. Furthermore, plaintiff's discrimination claim does not contradict Title IX's implementing regulation. View "Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's claim for a violation of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1961 et seq., and affirmed the district court's dismissal of the other claims, holding that Plaintiff's allegations told a plausible story of deliberate indifference by school officials to repeated and severe sexual harassment.Plaintiff alleged that she was the victim of several incidents of sexual assault and harassment while she was a student at the Pawtucket Learning Academy in Rhode Island. Plaintiff sued twenty-one defendants under sixteen different counts. The district court dismissed the entire action. The First Circuit vacated the judgment in part, holding that based on the facts set forth in Plaintiff's complaint it was plausible that a fact-finder could find that the conduct of school officials caused Plaintiff's harassment in some way or made Plaintiff liable or vulnerable to harassment. View "Doe v. Pawtucket School Department" on Justia Law

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In 2009 Allen-Noll, who is African-American, was hired by Madison Area Technical College as a nursing instructor. Beginning in 2010, Allen-Noll was criticized for her teaching methods. Students complained that she was “rude, condescending, and defensive” in class. In 2011 complaints about Allen-Noll resurfaced from students and the tutor assigned to her class, who criticized Allen-Noll for not timely posting grades and making study guides available and for failing too many students. Allen-Noll’s clinical class also complained that she failed to follow the rules on cell phone use and did not complete paperwork. Allen-Noll was assigned a faculty mentor. Allen-Noll filed a complaint with the College, alleging discrimination and harassment based on her skin color, Complaints about Allen-Noll’s teaching continued. Other faculty said she would not participate in team meetings or volunteer for the extra service expected of full-time faculty. When her teaching contract was not renewed, Allen-Noll sued, alleging racial discrimination and harassment. After discovery, the college moved for summary judgment, but Allen-Noll failed to follow the court’s procedures. The record was largely established by the defendants’ submissions, and the college prevailed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the appeal frivolous and granting the college’s request to sanction Allen-Noll and her lawyer. View "Allen-Noll v. Madison Area Technical College" on Justia Law

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Sharkey worked as a special educator and assistant principal at Susquehanna Township High School in 2013. He and M.S., a 16-year-old female student, began a sexual relationship. Weeks later, students began spreading rumors. The District launched an investigation, which included numerous interviews with M.S., Sharkey, and others; review of Sharkey’s telephone records, and examinations of texts, emails, and photos on M.S.’s telephone and on Sharkey’s district-issued telephone. M.S. and Sharkey denied the rumors. Not finding any evidence of wrongdoing, the superintendent ended the investigation.At the beginning of the next school year, the rumors resurfaced. The District contacted the police and placed Sharkey on administrative leave. M.S. still denied having a sexual relationship with Sharkey but officers informed her that they planned to get a search warrant for her phone. The next day, M.S. and her parents met with the police; M.S. provided details about her relationship with Sharkey. Sharkey was criminally charged. The District informed Sharkey that it intended to terminate his employment and obtained his resignation.M.S. sued the District, alleging a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX, violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, and state-law claims. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the District. Sharkey’s knowledge of his own wrongdoing is irrelevant to the District’s actual knowledge of the sexual harassment. No other appropriate person at the District had actual knowledge of the sexual relationship until days before Sharkey resigned. View "M. S. v. Susquehanna Township School District" on Justia Law

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Adams, superintendent of the school district in 2013-2016, requested a forensic audit of the district’s expenditures and subsequently had disputes with board members that involved Adams filing a police complaint. The Board of Education revoked an offer to extend her three-year contract. Adams suspended the district’s business manager for financial irregularities. The Board blocked her email and told state education officials that Adams was no longer superintendent. Adams filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. A jury awarded $400,000 in damages.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the police report was not a personal grievance, but a matter of public concern within the scope of the First Amendment. The potential for physical altercations between public officials implies that an important public institution was not working properly, particularly given that a proposed forensic audit “seems to have unsettled at least one" Board member. The police report and the controversy more generally could have affected the outcome of elections and the daily management of the school system. The record permitted a reasonable jury to find that an ordinary employee in Adams’s position would be deterred from speaking by the prospect of losing her job and was permitted to consider the possibility that Adams would have remained on the job longer had she kept silent. Damages for a First Amendment violation are not limited by the duration of contracts. View "Adams v. Board of Education Harvey School District 152" on Justia Law

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Ramsey, a medical student. unsuccessfully sought testing accommodations for dyslexia and ADHD from the National Board of Medical Examiners. Ramsey sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the award of a preliminary injunction, requiring the Board to provide her accommodations. Ramsay established irreparable harm because she would likely be forced to withdraw from medical school if she could not take the initial test with accommodations and pass. The balance of equities tipped in her favor because granting her accommodations would not undermine the Board’s interests in fair and accurate testing and it was in the public interest for the ADA to be followed, to increase the number of physicians. Evidence that Ramsay’s reading, processing, and writing skills were abnormally low by multiple measures provided a sufficient comparison of her abilities to those of the general population to support the finding of disability. While the district court viewed Ramsay’s experts more favorably and found the Board’s experts unpersuasive, there is no indication that the court believed that it was compelled to defer to Ramsay’s experts; the court discounted the Board’s experts because they never met with Ramsay, engaged in too demanding an analysis of whether Ramsay had a disability, and overly focused on Ramsay’s academic achievements. View "Ramsay v. National Board of Medical Examiners" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the University of Arizona violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681(a), by discriminating against plaintiff on the basis of sex during the course of a sexual misconduct disciplinary case against him.The Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated the district court's order and judgment dismissing the Title IX claim, holding that plaintiff stated a Title IX claim against the University because he plausibly alleged gender bias. The panel held that plaintiff's allegations of contemporaneous pressure and gender-based decisionmaking establish background indicia of sex discrimination relevant to his Title IX claim. In this case, a professor's comments regarding plaintiff's disciplinary case reflects an atmosphere of bias against plaintiff during the course of the University's disciplinary case. Furthermore, plaintiff was not permitted to appeal the punishment and the University's underlying finding of responsibility; plaintiff was not permitted to file a harassment complaint against the complainant; and the investigation was one-sided. Considering the combination of plaintiff's allegations of background indicia of sex discrimination along with the allegations concerning his particular disciplinary case, the panel stated that sex discrimination is a plausible explanation for the University's handling of the sexual misconduct disciplinary case against plaintiff. View "Schwake v. Arizona Board of Regents" on Justia Law