Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
Cluff-Landry v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester
Plaintiff Beverly Cluff-Landry appealed a Superior Court order dismissing her case against defendant Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester d/b/a St. Christopher School (the school). Two new students enrolled in the Pre-K program at the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year, each of whom exhibited defiant behaviors, including “daily kicking, hitting, slapping, punching, spitting, biting, screaming, throwing things, and verbal abuse. Plaintiff reported to the principal “her concerns that the school was not adequately set up to handle [one of the students] due to his unsafe behaviors and the school’s inability to keep the other students safe, and that the behavior was in violation of the student-parent handbook.” In response to the plaintiff’s concerns, the principal “simply laughed.” The plaintiff continued to complain to the principal about the student, but the principal took no action. After the parents of a student complained that the defiant student was bullying their daughter, the principal expelled the defiant student. Thereafter, the principal’s alleged retaliation toward the plaintiff “escalated.” The principal ultimately placed the plaintiff on a “Teacher Improvement Plan.” She was given notice of the school’s intent to not renew her contract for the following school year in April; plaintiff’s last day of work was June 15, 2012. Plaintiff filed suit against the school alleging: (1) violations under the New Hampshire Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, by failing to renew her contract after she reported violations of school and public policies; (2) wrongful discharge, for failing to renew her contract; and (3) slander, based upon the principal’s comments to A&T. The school moved to dismiss, arguing that: (1) plaintiff’s factual allegations were insufficient to support a violation of the Act; (2) the wrongful discharge claim was barred by the statute of limitations, and also failed because the plaintiff’s employment was governed by a one-year contract; and (3) the alleged defamatory statements were not actionable because plaintiff consented to their publication. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the school’s motion. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cluff-Landry v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester" on Justia Law
Appeal of Dunbarton School District
The Dunbarton School District (appealed a Board of Education decision which determined that Dunbarton was liable to the Goffstown School District for its proportional share of Goffstown’s obligation on a 20-year construction bond approved in 2001 for renovations to the Goffstown High School. The hearing officer reasoned that, “[b]y initiating the withdrawal study, Dunbarton would have put Goffstown on notice prior to the bond as to the potential additional financial risk on the bond without Dunbarton remaining part of the [Authorized Regional Enrollment Area] AREA.” Although the 2004 AREA plan expired June 30, 2014, “Dunbarton was clearly on notice back in 2001 that there was a twenty (20) year bond, and had the opportunity to initiate a withdrawal study at that point in time so that Goffstown would be on notice of the possible financial ramifications of Dunbarton withdrawing from the AREA.” Accordingly, the hearing officer recommended that the Board find that Dunbarton remained financially obligated with respect to the high school construction bond. The Board voted to accept the hearing officer’s report and adopted his recommendation. On appeal, Dunbarton argued that RSA chapter 195-A “envisions two possible endings to an area relationship: (1) withdrawal by one party; and (2) expiration of the area agreement. [. . .] only where an area relationship terminates . . . before the end of its term through ‘withdrawal’ that the statute imposes liability for payments on outstanding bond issues” pursuant to statute. Consequently, “[t]he Board unlawfully and unreasonably categorized Dunbarton as a ‘withdrawing’ sending district because Dunbarton never withdrew; instead, the 2004 Contract expired by its terms and with it, any further obligation for Dunbarton to pay Goffstown.” The Supreme Court agreed with Dunbarton's interpretation of RSA 195-A:14, reversed the Board's decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Dunbarton School District" on Justia Law
Appeal of Farmington School District
Farmington School District appealed a Board of Education (state board) decision reversing the decision of the Farmington School Board (local board) not to renew the employment contract of Demetria McKaig, a guidance counselor at Farmington High School. In November 2012, a student (Student A) and her boyfriend told McKaig and another guidance counselor that Student A was pregnant and that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Student A was fifteen years old at the time. McKaig suggested that Student A tell her mother about the pregnancy, but Student A refused. The principal expressed his view that the school should inform Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. McKaig disagreed, asserting that Student A had a right to keep the pregnancy confidential. McKaig spoke with Attorney Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union about Student A’s situation. Keshen’s opinion was that the judicial bypass law protected the confidentiality of Student A’s pregnancy and the fact that she was contemplating an abortion. McKaig relayed this opinion to Student A, and Student A made an appointment with a health center and another attorney to assist her with the judicial bypass proceedings. Meanwhile, the principal instructed the school nurse to meet with Student A to tell her that the school would inform her mother about her pregnancy. McKaig told the principal about her conversation with Keshen and urged him to contact Keshen to discuss Student A’s rights. The principal did not contact Keshen; however, Keshen contacted him. He told Keshen that the parental notification and judicial bypass laws did not prevent him from telling Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. Keshen instituted a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the principal to prevent him from contacting Student A’s mother. McKaig was named as the petitioner “ON BEHALF OF [Student A]”; she was not named in her individual capacity. The TRO was ultimately granted. Months later, McKaig received a notice of nonrenewal from the superintendent; in the written statement of the reasons for non-renewal, the superintendent listed three reasons: insubordination, breach of student confidentiality, and neglect of duties. After the hearing, the local board upheld McKaig’s nonrenewal on those grounds. McKaig appealed to the state board, which found, pursuant that the local board’s decision was “clearly erroneous.” The state board reversed the local board’s decision to uphold McKaig’s nonrenewal, but it did not order McKaig’s reinstatement or any other remedy. McKaig cross-appealed the state board’s decision and argued that she was entitled to reinstatement with back pay and benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed the state board’s reversal of the local board’s decision, and ordered that McKaig be reinstated to her former job. The case was remanded to the state board for further proceedings to determine whether she was entitled to additional remedies. View "Appeal of Farmington School District" on Justia Law
Appeal of Keelin B.
Petitioners Daniel and Lisa B. appealed the decision of the New Hampshire State Board of Education (Board) that upheld a thirty-four day suspension imposed on their daughter Keelin B. Keelin opened an email account under another studentâs name, and then sent sexually suggestive, lewd and threatening email messages to the principal of her school and one teacher. When the deception was discovered, the Board âsentencedâ Keelin to a thirty-four day suspension. Keelinâs parents appealed to the School Board, but the Board upheld the suspension. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Keelinâs âsentenceâ exceeded the Boardâs maximum allowable suspension under these kinds of circumstances. The Court reduced Keelinâs suspension to twenty days, but affirmed the Boardâs decision in all other respects.