Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
Sheehy v. Commissioner of Political Practices
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court reversing the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices' summary decision of complaint without informal contested case hearing against Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education member Martha Sheehy, holding that Sheehy did not violate the Montana Code of Ethics, that the Commissioner lacks enforcement authority over regents, and that regents are public employees subject to the Ethics Code. The Commissioner concluded that Regents are public employees subject to the Commissioner's Ethics Code enforcement authority and that Sheehy violated the Ethics Code by soliciting support for a ballot issue while suing public time, facilities, and equipment. The district court overruled the Commissioner's summary decision, concluding that the Ethics Code does not apply to regents, that the Commissioner lacked enforcement authority over regents, and that Sheehy's statements did not violate the Ethics Code. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the Ethics Code applies to the Board of Regents of the Montana University System; (2) Sheehy did not violate the Ethics Code; and (3) the Commissioner does not have authority to enforce the Ethics Code against members of a state administrative board, like the Board of Regents. View "Sheehy v. Commissioner of Political Practices" on Justia Law
Knudsen v. University of Montana
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the orders of the district court certifying three classes to proceed in a lawsuit against the University of Montana, holding that the district court abused its discretion in certifying Class 3 to pursue the claims. Current and former students of the University brought this lawsuit as a class action complaint alleging that the University breached its fiduciary duty to students by entering into a contract with Higher One, Inc. to process student loan refunds through non-competitive financial accounts and by providing students' personal information to Higher One. In two orders, the district court certified three classes to proceed in the lawsuit. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the district court's certification of Class 3 under Mont. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2) was an abuse of discretion; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in certifying Class 1 and Class 2 under Rule 23(b)(1) and (b)(2) but properly certified Class 1 and Class 2 under Rule 23(b)(3). View "Knudsen v. University of Montana" on Justia Law
Krakauer v. State
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Plaintiff's motion to release John Doe's educational records, holding that the district court erred in concluding that Doe had no expectation of privacy in his educational records. Plaintiff, a writer, sought the student education record of a student, John Doe, that the University Court concluded had committed sexual intercourse without consent and had sanctioned him to expulsion. After Doe appealed to the Commissioner of Higher Education, Doe remained in school and continued to participate in athletics. The Commissioner refused to permit inspection or release of Doe's education records, and Plaintiff initiated this court action to obtain the records. Upon remand, the trial court ordered Doe's records be disclosed. The Supreme Court reversed and denied Plaintiff's request to examine the documents, holding that the demand of Doe's enhanced student privacy interest in his records exceeded the merits of public disclosure. View "Krakauer v. State" on Justia Law
Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue
The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, holding that the Tax Credit Program, which provides a taxpayer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit based on the taxpayer’s donation to a Student Scholarship Organization (SSO), violates Mont. Const. art. X, 6. SSOs fund tuition scholarships for students who attend private schools meeting the definition of Qualified Education Provider (QEP). Pursuant to its authority to implement the Tax Credit Program, Mont. Code Ann. 15-30-3111, the Montana Department of Revenue implemented Admin. R. M. 42.4.802 (Rule 1), which excluded religiously-affiliated private schools from qualifying as QEPs. Plaintiffs, parents whose children attended a religious-affiliated private school, challenged Rule 1. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Tax Credit Program violates Article X, Section 6’s prohibition on aid to sectarian schools and that the Department exceeded the scope of its rulemaking authority when it enacted Rule 1. View "Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue" on Justia Law
State v. Reopelle
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for felony deceptive practices, following a jury trial. The court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion and correctly applied the law by admitting evidence of Defendant’s prior investigations and convictions for fraudulent deceptive practices; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing an expert witness to testify over Defendant’s objection that the State’s notification was late; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to give Defendant’s proposed jury instruction for misdemeanor theft. View "State v. Reopelle" on Justia Law
Krakauer v. Comm’n of Higher Educ.
Jon Krakauer, a journalist and resident of Colorado, published a book chronicling instances of alleged sexual misconduct on or near the Missoula campus of the University of Montana. This case involved Krakauer’s request for release of certain student records related to one instance of allegations of sexual assault. The Commissioner of Higher Education denied Krakauer’s request, and Krakauer filed a petition in the district court citing the right to know under the Montana Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment to Krakauer and ordered the Commissioner to make available for inspection the requested records. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) and state statute provide an exception for release of information pursuant to a lawfully issued court order; and (2) the records at issue in this case appear to fall under the “personally identifiable information” protection granted by FERPA. Remanded for further proceedings. View "Krakauer v. Comm’n of Higher Educ." on Justia Law
In re Vaughn Elementary School Petition
In 2013, Vaughn School District received a petition requesting the transfer of a specific portion of territory from Vaughn School District to the Power School District. A panel of three county school superintendents dismissed the school territory transfer petition on the ground that the transfer territory was located within three miles of an operating school - the Hillcrest Hutterite Colony Attendance Center. Power School District petitioned for judicial review of the superintendent panel’s decision. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly held that the superintendent panel (1) did not act unreasonably in concluding that the attendance center operates as any public school in the state of Montana; and (2) did not abuse its discretion or err as a matter of law in interpreting the governing statutes. View "In re Vaughn Elementary School Petition" on Justia Law
King v. Hays Lodge Pole Sch. Board of Trs.
Norma Jean King worked for the Hays/Lodge Pole School District for more than thirty-five years, holding positions of elementary school teacher, elementary school principal, and high school principal. After serving as the high school principal for three years, the school district board of trustees reassigned her to an elementary school teaching position. On appeal, the county superintendent and, subsequently, the state superintendent affirmed the board's reassignment decision. The district court reversed the state superintendent's ruling, holding that the state superintendent erred in ruling that a principal position was comparable to a teaching position. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court, holding that the district court erred in concluding that the positions of teacher and principal were not comparable positions of employment under the applicable statutes. Remanded. View "King v. Hays Lodge Pole Sch. Board of Trs." on Justia Law
Kalispell Educ. Ass’n v. Bd. of Trustees, Kalispell High Sch. Dist.
In the fall of 2008 William Hartford, a high school science teacher, was fired after his Montana teaching certificate expired by his inadvertence in failing to renew it. Hartford sought to file a grievance, alleging that he had been terminated without just cause in violation of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) entered into between Kalispell School District (District) and the Kalispell Education Association (KEA). The district superintendent, and later the board of trustees, denied Hartford's request, claiming the matter did not constitute a valid grievance under the CBA on grounds that Hartford was not a member of the bargaining unit at any point during his employment in the fall of 2008 and that he was not a "teacher" as defined under Montana law during his employment in the fall of 2008. Hartford and the KEA filed a petition in the district court to compel arbitration as provided in the CBA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Hartford and the KEA and ordered the matter submitted to arbitration. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the questions raised by the matter were properly submitted to arbitration.
In re Petition to Transfer Territory from Dutton Brady K-12 Sch. Dist.
After a petition seeking to transfer territory from Dutton/Brady K-12 School District to Conrad High School and Elementary Districts was refused by the county superintendent of schools, the petition was referred to a three-member panel of county superintendents. The panel denied the petition, and the district court affirmed. Conrad Schools appealed, arguing that the district court erred in concluding the panel of superintendents abused its discretion in denying the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record demonstrated that the panel carefully evaluated the effects of the proposed transfer and made its decision based upon the best and collective interests of all students involved.