Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The California Legislature has required school children to be vaccinated for 10 diseases; COVID-19 was not yet among them. The issue here was whether a school district could require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for both: (1) attending in-person class; and (2) participating in extracurricular activities. The superior court determined there was a “statewide standard for school vaccination,” leaving “no room for each of the over 1,000 individual school districts to impose a patchwork of additional vaccine mandates.” On independent review, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion and affirmed the judgment. View "Let Them Choose v. San Diego Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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From August 2018 through January 2019, plaintiffs were six-year-old first grade students who attended Maple Elementary School (Maple) within the Hesperia Unified School District (the District). Pedro Martinez worked at Maple as a janitor. Martinez’s position as a janitor did not require him to have any one-on-one contact with the students. Martinez engaged in a variety of activities with the students that plaintiffs characterized as “‘grooming’ activities” that were “designed to lure minor students, including [p]laintiffs, into a false sense of security around him.” Plaintiffs alleged that numerous District employees who were mandated reporters under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), witnessed Martinez’s behavior and did not report it to school officials or to law enforcement, in violation of the District’s policies. In January 2019, the State charged Martinez with numerous felonies involving his alleged sexual abuse of minors. In February 2019, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the District and Martinez, alleging numerous claims arising from Martinez’s alleged sexual abuse of plaintiffs. The trial court was persuaded by the District's argument, concluding that plaintiffs did not adequately plead a negligence cause of action against the District, because they failed to state any facts “establishing that [the] District knew of any prior acts of sexual abuse by Martinez and/or that the District had actual or constructive knowledge that Martinez was abusing [p]laintiffs so as to impose liability upon [the] District.” One month after plaintiffs sought reconsideration, the trial court entered judgment against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that they were not required to plead facts demonstrating that the District had actual knowledge of past sexual abuse by Martinez, and that they otherwise pled sufficient facts to state negligence causes of action against the District. The Court of Appeal agreed with plaintiffs on all of those points. The Court disagreed with plaintiffs' contention that the trial court erred by dismissing their sex discrimination claims under Title IX and California Education Code section 220: plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient to constitute actual notice of a violation of Title IX or Education Code section 220. The judgment of dismissal was reversed, the order sustaining the demurrer to the third amended complaint was vacated, and the trial court was directed to enter a new order sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend as to the causes of action under Title IX, Education Code section 220, and the Unruh Civil Rights Act but otherwise overruling the demurrer. View "Roe v. Hesperia Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs K.M., H.R., and M.L. sued the Grossmont Union High School District (the District) for negligence based on alleged sexual abuse by their high school drama teacher, James Chatham. They also asserted sexual harassment claims under California Civil Code section 51.9, to which the District successfully demurred. The District made Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers, which Plaintiffs did not accept. The case proceeded to a jury trial, where the trial court excluded certain evidence and mistakenly included Plaintiffs in an oral jury instruction regarding apportionment of fault. Plaintiffs prevailed, and the jury assigned 60 percent of fault to Chatham, and 40 percent to the District, with resulting damage awards lower than the section 998 offers. The parties moved to tax each other’s costs. The trial court ruled the offers were invalid, granted Plaintiffs’ motion, and denied the District’s motion in pertinent part. Both parties appealed. The California Legislature later enacted Assembly Bill No. 218 which amended Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, to reduce procedural barriers for childhood sexual abuse claims, and to allow treble damages for a claim involving a prior cover- up of abuse. Plaintiffs sought a new trial, contending they were entitled to pursue treble damages, and that the trial court erred by sustaining the demurrers to their sexual harassment claims, excluding certain evidence, and giving the erroneous oral jury instruction. The District argued the trial court wrongly determined its Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers were invalid. The Court of Appeal concluded the treble damages provision in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 was neither retroactive, nor applicable to public school districts. The Court further concluded Plaintiffs did not establish they could pursue sexual harassment claims against the District under Civil Code section 51.9. The parties do not establish reversible error on the other asserted grounds, either. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment and postjudgment orders. View "K.M. v. Grossmont Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) and the Committee of Credentials of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Committee) appealed a judgment and peremptory writ of prohibition directing them to discontinue certain investigative proceedings against present and former public school administrators Kathy Little, Simone Kovats, and Debra Sather (together, the administrators). The Committee commenced an initial review of the administrators’ fitness to continue as credential holders in 2019. Nonparty John Villani was a special education teacher employed by the District between 2011 and 2014. Villani sued the District in 2016 alleging the District unlawfully retaliated against him after he reported that a teacher-aide, David Yoder, was “grooming” and paying inappropriate attention to some of the minor students in his care. Yoder was subsequently charged and convicted of several felony sex offenses against minors, including an offense against one of the aforementioned students. As relevant here, Villani’s lawsuit also alleged the administrators ignored his concerns about Yoder. The Commission learned about Villani’s lawsuit from a news article; the Commission thereafter launched its investigation. The administrators objected to the manner in which the Commission had obtained documents and information from Villani and argued the Committee had not established jurisdiction to review their credentials. The administrators demanded the Commission cease the investigation and the Committee drop the scheduled meetings. The Commission and Committee argued the trial court erred in ruling the administrators were excused from exhausting administrative remedies and misinterpreted Education Code section 44242.5, which defined the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction. Finding no error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment and writ. View "Little v. Com. on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Poway Unified School District (the District) constructed a new elementary school. The $82 million project was funded primarily by special tax bonds paid for by homeowners in local communities. Approximately four years later, following the passage of Proposition 51, the District received reimbursement funds from the State of California ($27,672,923). The District allocated a small portion to retire local bonds but used a larger amount toward new high priority outlay expenditures. Two homeowners, Albert Bates and Bridget Denihan, disagreed with the District’s fund allocation decision and filed a petition for a writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court denied all relief and entered a judgment in the District’s favor. On appeal, the Homeowners contended California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 1859.90.5 and Education Code section 17070.631 required the District to allocate all newly acquired “State Funds” toward retiring the local bonds, unless it could prove there was a savings during construction (but there was none). The Court of Appeal concluded the Homeowners’ arguments had merit, and reversed the judgment. View "Bates v. Poway Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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The Los Angeles College Faculty Guild (Guild) represents faculty at the nine community colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District (District). The Guild appeals the trial court’s judgment of dismissal of its petition to compel arbitration of grievances relating to the District’s decision to cancel all remedial for-credit English and mathematics courses two levels below transfer level. The Guild contends the court erred in determining it, rather than an arbitrator, should decide the issue of arbitrability and further erred in finding the grievances non-arbitrable. The Guild maintains the grievances involve violations of several provisions of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the parties and so are subject to the arbitration provision of that agreement.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s order denying the motion and petition and its subsequent judgment of dismissal. The court explained that the decision to cancel remedial for-credit English and mathematics courses two levels before transfer level is, in essence, a decision about the content of courses and curriculum. Put differently, it is a decision not to offer courses that contain such content. Thus, it is a matter within the discretion of the district, and so not within the scope of representation. It is therefore not an arbitrable issue.   The Guild makes much of the fact that the courses were canceled after they were placed on the tentative schedule for Fall 2019. The Guild, however, does not assert any schedule-related harm from the timing of the decision. Thus, the trial court’s conclusion that there was no arbitrable claim under Article 17(D)(1)(b) was correct. View "L.A. College Faculty Guild etc. v. L.A. Community College Dist." on Justia Law

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On April 10, 2017, Cedric Anderson entered his wife’s classroom at an elementary school, which was part of the San Bernardino City Unified School District (the district). Anderson shot and killed his wife, a student, and himself in front of a class of students. Plaintiffs-appellants C.I. (minor), J.I. (guardian ad litem), D.B. (minor), J.B. (guardian ad litem), B.E.Jr. (minor), B.E.Sr. (guardian ad litem), J.A.G. (minor), J.G. (guardian ad litem), M.M. (minor), M.T.M. (guardian ad litem), M.P. (minor), E.B. (guardian ad litem), M.R. (minor), and D.R. (guardian ad litem) filed suit against defendants-respondents district and Y.D. (the school’s principal), alleging, inter alia, negligence and dangerous condition of property. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds they owed no duty to plaintiffs because Anderson’s actions were unforeseeable, the school property was not a dangerous condition because there was no defect, and Anderson was not using the school property with due care. The trial court agreed, and judgment was entered in defendants’ favor. On appeal, plaintiffs contended defendants had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect students from criminal activity, and the district created a dangerous condition by failing to lock the front office door and equip classrooms with doors that locked. Finding no reversible error in the trial court judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "C.I. v. San Bernardino City Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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One of the California Board of Registered Nursing (the Board) regulations stated: “An approved nursing program shall not make a substantive change without prior board authorization,” which included changes such as a change in location, a change in ownership, an addition of a new campus or location, and, for certain nursing programs, a significant change in the agreement between the nursing program and the institution of higher education with which it is affiliated. Here, the Board determined that West Coast University, Inc. (West Coast) made a substantive change under the regulation when it increased its annual student enrollment from 500 to 850 over a five-year period. After West Coast sought a writ of mandate, the trial court denied each of West Coast’s claims and entered judgment in favor of the Board and its executive officer. The Court of Appeal concluded the Board could consider the change in enrollment to be a substantive change under the regulation. View "West Coast University, Inc. v. Board of Registered Nursing" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff C. Achay was a student on a high school track team, which usually practiced after school until 5:30 p.m. One day practice ended early, so Achay and her friend walked to Starbucks and returned about 45 minutes later. On the way back to the open campus, they encountered a stranger who Achay thought was “suspicious.” Someone identified him as A. Meer, a former student who was “kind of weird.” Achay retrieved her schoolbooks from the girls’ locker room, which was to be locked at 6:00 p.m. While Achay was walking from the girls’ locker room to the school parking lot she was stabbed by Meer, suffering serious injuries. Achay sued defendant Huntington Beach Union High School District (the District) for negligence. The District moved for summary judgment on the grounds of duty and causation. The trial court granted the motion, finding the District owed Achay no duty of care because at the time of the stabbing, she “was no longer on campus during school hours during a school-related activity.” To this the Court of Appeal disagreed: at the time of the stabbing, Achay was on campus to retrieve her books from an open locker room after her track practice and another sports team was still practicing nearby. “Achay’s brief departure from school is a red herring.” Alternatively, the trial court stated it “cannot assume that more security would have prevented the incident from occurring.” But the Court found that was “plainly a triable issue of material fact: whether the District used reasonable security measures to protect Achay from an arguably preventable injury at the hands of Meer.” Thus, the Court reversed the trial court’s order, which granted the District’s motion for summary judgment. View "Achay v. Huntington Beach Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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In 2015, John and Jane were students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). On September 7, they went to a party together and then had a sexual encounter. The next day, a dispute arose about whether the encounter was consensual. Jane filed a police report, which led to an investigation but no criminal charges. Jane filed a complaint with UCSB’s Title IX and Sexual Harassment Policy Compliance Office, 20 U.S.C. 1681. An investigator opined that John sexually assaulted Jane and recommended that John be suspended for three years. A Review Committee denied John’s appeal.John sought judicial review; his petition named only the University; Jane is described as a “[n]on-party.” The trial court granted John’s petition, finding that John was not afforded procedural due process during the University’s investigation. Jane moved to vacate the order on the ground that she did not receive notice of or an opportunity to participate in, the writ proceeding. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Jane’s motion. While Jane’s interests were affected by the mandate proceeding, such that she may have been a real party in interest or a necessary party, she has not established that she was an indispensable party. Nor has she established that the absence of even an indispensable party is grounds to void a judgment. View "Doe v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law