Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

by
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit was asked to determine the constitutionality of a process for selecting a student member of a county school board in Howard County, Maryland. Two parents sued the board, arguing that allowing public-school students to elect the student member diminishes adults’ voting power, violating the Equal Protection Clause, and that the selection process violates the Free Exercise Clause as it excludes students who opt not to attend public schools, including those who do so for religious reasons.The court affirmed the dismissal of both claims. It held that the selection process was "basically appointive rather than elective," therefore, the one-person, one-vote principle derived from the Equal Protection Clause was not applicable. The court also found that the selection process was neutral and generally applicable, thus it did not violate the Free Exercise Clause. The process excluded students who chose not to attend public school for any reason, not just those who did so for religious reasons. View "Kim v. Board of Education of Howard County" on Justia Law

by
The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt with two consolidated cases involving two New Jersey parents, who claimed they were retaliated against for protesting school policies related to mandatory masking during the COVID-19 pandemic. One parent, George Falcone, was issued a summons for defiant trespass after refusing to wear a mask at a school board meeting, while another parent, Gwyneth Murray-Nolan, was arrested under similar circumstances. Falcone claimed retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights, while Murray-Nolan argued the same and also claimed she was deprived of substantive due process. The district court dismissed both cases. On appeal, the court found that Falcone had standing to sue, reversing and remanding the lower court's decision. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of Murray-Nolan's case, concluding that refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic was not protected conduct under the First Amendment. View "Murray-Nolan v. Rubin" on Justia Law

by
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the plaintiffs, The Arc of Iowa and several parents of children with disabilities, sought to challenge a provision of the Iowa Code that prevents schools from imposing mask mandates unless required by other laws. They had received a preliminary injunction from a lower court that had been vacated by this court due to changing circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. On remand, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, declaring that the phrase 'other provisions of law' in the contested Iowa Code section includes Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the contested Iowa Code section cannot be cited as the sole basis for denying a student's request for reasonable modification or accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act that requires others to wear masks.The defendants, the Governor of Iowa and the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, appealed to the Eighth Circuit, raising issues of exhaustion of remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), standing of the plaintiffs, and the propriety and necessity of the relief granted by the district court.The appellate court, after de novo review, found that the plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for standing, which include having suffered an injury in fact, traceability of the injury to the defendant's conduct, and the likelihood of redress by a favorable judicial decision. The court found that the general risks associated with COVID-19 were not enough to constitute "imminent and substantial" harm for standing. It also concluded that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the alleged injuries were fairly traceable to the conduct of the Governor or the Director of the Department of Education. As a result, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss due to lack of standing. View "The Arc of Iowa v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

by
A former medical student at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Kieran Bhattacharya, sued multiple university officials, alleging they reprimanded, suspended, and expelled him in violation of the First Amendment because of his views expressed during a faculty panel on microaggressions. The officials asserted that they took these actions due to Bhattacharya’s confrontational and threatening behavior.The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia held that Bhattacharya could not provide evidence that the officials punished him due to his speech, siding with the officials. Bhattacharya appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Bhattacharya failed to present evidence sufficient to create a triable issue as to whether his speech caused the actions taken against him. The court found that the university's administrators appropriately exercised their authority to ensure the safety of the school’s faculty and staff. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of Bhattacharya's request to amend his complaint to add a conspiracy claim and the dismissal of his due process claim. View "Bhattacharya v. Murray" on Justia Law

by
The case involves plaintiff-appellant Cassandra Kincaid, an assistant principal at Central Middle School in Kansas, who claimed that she was harassed by the Unified School District No. 500 in retaliation for her reporting a student-on-student sexual assault. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the school district. The court concluded that Kincaid did not satisfy her burden of creating a genuine dispute of material fact that the reasons given for the alleged material adverse actions against her were pretextual. The court examined various aspects of the case under Title VII and Title IX, which prohibit retaliation against individuals for complaining of sex discrimination. It considered numerous allegedly adverse employment actions, including two emails sent by the school principal, a request for Kincaid's transfer, and a letter of concern. The court concluded that none of the evidence Kincaid provided created a genuine dispute of material fact about pretext. View "Kincaid v. Unified School District No. 500, Kansas City, KS" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Pablo Abreu, a student who was expelled from Howard University College of Medicine. Abreu appealed his expulsion, arguing that the university violated his rights under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1972 by refusing to grant him additional opportunities to retake a required examination, in light of his diagnosed test-taking-anxiety disability. The district court dismissed his complaint, applying a one-year statute of limitations and ruling that his claims were time-barred.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed with the lower court's application of a one-year statute of limitations to Abreu’s ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims. The court pointed to its decision in another case, Stafford v. George Washington University, in which it concluded that a three-year statute of limitations should apply to civil rights claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since Abreu's ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims were also civil rights claims alleging discrimination, the court ruled that the three-year statute of limitations should apply. This made Abreu’s claims timely since he filed the suit less than three years after his expulsion.The court then remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings on the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims. However, it affirmed the dismissal of Abreu's contractual claims, agreeing with the district court that Abreu failed to state a claim for breach of contract. View "Abreu v. Howard University" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Dr. Robert H. Wainberg, a tenured biology professor at Piedmont University, who filed a lawsuit against several officers and trustees of the university. He alleged that they conspired to retaliate against him for filing a prior lawsuit and to deter witnesses from participating in that lawsuit, and negligently refused to prevent that conspiracy. The district court dismissed Wainberg’s claims as time-barred, concluding that the statute of limitations ran from the first overt act Wainberg alleged as part of the conspiracy.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that under its precedent, each overt act triggers its own statute of limitations. Therefore, Wainberg’s claims arising out of some overt acts were timely. The court vacated the district court’s dismissal and remanded for further proceedings. The court also held that the continuing-violation doctrine, which allows a plaintiff to sue on an otherwise time-barred claim when additional violations of the law occur within the statutory period, did not apply in this case because the alleged violations were not ongoing but were discrete acts, each triggering its own statute of limitations. View "Wainberg v. Mellichamp" on Justia Law

by
In Georgia, the Fair Dismissal Act (FDA) offers certain protections to public school teachers after they have fulfilled a contract for the fourth consecutive school year with the same local board of education. This case considered whether the Charter Schools Act's waiver provision, which relieves public charter schools from complying with Title 20 (including the FDA), impairs the vested rights of teachers who had earned FDA protections before their school converted to a charter system. The Supreme Court of Georgia decided that the teachers' constitutional claims failed as a matter of law. The justices reasoned that the 1993 Charter Schools Act had already clarified that the FDA did not afford teachers any rights enforceable against charter schools. Therefore, the Charter Systems Act's retention of an FDA exemption for charter schools did not impair any rights for teachers who earned FDA rights after the 1993 Charter Schools Act was enacted. View "WOODS v. BARNES" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of Texas evaluated a case in which a land development company, Bellpas, Inc., sought to detach property from one school district and annex it to another. According to the Texas Education Code, if the school boards of the affected districts disagree on the petition, the Commissioner of Education can resolve the issue in an administrative appeal. However, the Lampasas Independent School District (LISD) board neglected to approve or disapprove the petition, leading to a disagreement over whether the Commissioner of Education had jurisdiction over the administrative appeal.The Supreme Court of Texas held that the Commissioner of Education did have jurisdiction over the administrative appeal. The court reasoned that a school board "disapproves" a petition if it does not approve it within a reasonable time after a hearing, as per the plain reading of the Education Code. The court also concluded that the Commissioner did not lose jurisdiction by failing to issue a ruling within 180 days, as the statute's deadline is not jurisdictional.The case was returned to the Court of Appeals to resolve the appeal on its merits. The Supreme Court of Texas stressed that the delay in the administrative appeal process should not deprive the appellant of a decision on the merits of their petition and criticized the school board for refusing to make a decision, thus avoiding any ruling on the merits. View "MORATH v. LAMPASAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT" on Justia Law

by
In the case at hand, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by a group of students and Children’s Health Defense, Inc. against Rutgers University. The plaintiffs challenged the university's COVID-19 vaccination policy, which required in-person students to be vaccinated or else enroll in online programs or seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons. The court found that the university's policy did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional or statutory rights.The court held that there is no fundamental right to refuse vaccination. It applied the rational basis review and concluded that Rutgers University had a rational basis for its policy given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the policy was ultra vires under New Jersey law, determining that Rutgers was authorized to require COVID-19 vaccinations under state law. Furthermore, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' equal protection claim, concluding that Rutgers had a rational basis for its differential treatment of students and staff, as well as vaccinated and unvaccinated students. View "Children's Health Defense Inc. v. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" on Justia Law