Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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A student was dismissed from a Ph.D. program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks after several years of poor performance and negative feedback. She claimed that her advisors discriminated and retaliated against her, that she was dismissed in violation of due process, and that the University breached duties owed to her under an implied contract. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's decision to uphold the University's action because the student was dismissed based on her poor research performance and the dismissal was conducted under adequate procedures and within accepted academic norms. View "Horner-Neufeld v. University of Alaska Fairbanks" on Justia Law

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After a two-day hearing, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) dismissed Qwynten Richards from her Ph.D. program for failing to respond to feedback from her professors. An Appeals Committee affirmed Richards’s dismissal from the program because it concluded that there were sufficient negative reviews from her professors to support dismissal, and that she had failed to satisfactorily complete a “remediation” assignment given to her after the faculty found she plagiarized parts of a paper. Richards appealed to the superior court. The superior court affirmed, holding that UAF was reasonable in characterizing her dismissal as academic, that it substantially complied with its procedures, and that Richards received due process. It also awarded UAF 10% of its claimed attorney’s fees. Richards appealed to the Supreme Court. But finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Richards v. University of Alaska" on Justia Law

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Article VII, section 1 of the Alaska Constitution required the state legislature to “establish and maintain a system of public schools” open to all children in the state. To fulfill this mandate, the legislature defined three types of school districts according to where the district is located: city school districts, borough school districts, and regional education attendance areas. “[E]ach organized borough is a borough school district”; a borough must “establish[], maintain[], and operate[] a system of public schools on an areawide basis.” Local school boards managed and controlled these school districts under authority delegated by AS 14.12.020. The statute required local borough and city governments to raise money “from local sources to maintain and operate” their local schools. The superior court held that this required local contribution was an unconstitutional dedication of a “state tax or license.” But the minutes of the constitutional convention and the historical context of those proceedings suggested that the delegates intended that local communities and the State would share responsibility for their local schools. Those proceedings also indicated that the delegates did not intend for state-local cooperative programs like the school funding formula to be included in the term “state tax or license.” These factors distinguished this case from previous cases where the Alaska Supreme Court found that state funding mechanisms violated the dedicated funds clause. The Court therefore held that the existing funding formula did not violate the constitution, and reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment holding that the funding formula was unconstitutional. View "Alaska v. Ketchikan Gateway Borough" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Plaintiff Helen Barton was injured while watching a high school football game in Barrow when a player ran out of bounds during a play and collided with her, breaking her leg. Plaintiff sued the North Slope Borough School District, alleging in part that the football field had not been designed or built with a proper "run-off" area along the sidelines and that spectators had improperly been allowed to stand in the run-off area during the game. Plaintiff retained expert landscape architect Juliet Vong who proposed to testify that she used a particular manual in designing sports fields "to help ensure the appropriate dimensions and design criteria are met for a given sport and level of play." The School District filed a motion in limine to exclude Vong's testimony because it did not provide an admissible expert opinion. The superior court agreed with the District and excluded Vong's report and testimony. At a jury trial in August 2010, the District was found not negligent. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the superior court should not have excluded Vong's testimony and that doing so was prejudicial to Plaintiff's case. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that although it was error to exclude Vong’s testimony, the error was harmless. View "Barton v. North Slope Borough School District" on Justia Law

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Parents "Madeline P." and "Rex P." challenged a school district's actions regarding their child's educational program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A hearing officer found an IDEA violation but awarded less compensatory education services for the child than the parents requested. On appeal, the superior court affirmed the IDEA violation finding and the compensatory education award. The parents appealed, arguing that more compensatory education services should have been awarded; the school district cross-appealed, arguing that no compensatory education services should have been awarded. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's findings regarding the school district's violation of the IDEA's procedural and substantive requirements and the compensatory education award. View "Madeline P. v. Anchorage School District" on Justia Law

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Parents requested that the Anchorage School District evaluate their child for eligibility for special education services. While awaiting the results of the eligibility assessment, the parents arranged for private tutoring. The school district did not assess the child’s eligibility within the statutorily-required time, and the parents requested a due process hearing. They also arranged for their child to be privately evaluated to determine whether he was eligible for special education services. The school district subsequently completed its evaluation and determined the child to be ineligible for services. At the due process hearing, the parents alleged that the school district committed procedural violations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including impermissibly delaying the evaluation. They sought reimbursement for the cost of their child’s private evaluation and tutoring. An independent hearing officer presided over the due process hearing and ultimately agreed with the district that the child was ineligible for services. The hearing officer ordered the school district to pay the cost of the private eligibility assessment and to partially pay the cost of the tutoring. The superior court upheld the award of the private eligibility assessment, but reversed the award of the private tutoring cost. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the school district argued that the parents should not be reimbursed for the evaluation or the tutoring; the parents argued they are entitled to full reimbursement for both expenses. The central question the Court addressed was: where a child is ultimately determined to be ineligible for special education services, does the IDEA provide relief for procedural violations that occur during the process of evaluating the child’s eligibility for services? The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, upholding the independent hearing officer’s award of the private assessment cost, but reversing the hearing officer’s award of the private tutoring expenses. View "J.P. v. Anchorage Sch. Dist." on Justia Law