Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted petitioners' request for a declaration with respect to Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act1 were invalid. Proviso 1.108 (enacted June 22, 2021,) was directed to the South Carolina Department of Education for South Carolina's kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) public schools, and banned face mask mandates at any of its education facilities. Proviso 1.103 permitted school districts to offer a virtual education program for up to five percent of its student population based on the most recent 135 day ADM [(average daily membership)]count without impacting any state funding. For every student participating in the virtual program above the five percent threshold, the school district would not receive 47.22% of the State per pupil funding provided to that district as reported in the latest Revenue and Fiscal Affairs revenue per pupil report pursuant to Proviso 1.3. Although the School District did not require its students to wear masks in its education facilities, it claimed Proviso 1.108 conflicted with local laws regarding mask requirements in schools and placed the School District in an untenable position. In addition, Petitioners claimed the School District reached the five percent cap for virtual enrollment and did not wish to risk losing state funds by exceeding the cap in Proviso 1.103. The School District asked for guidance on its options and obligations regarding face masks and virtual education. Petitioners contended: (1) Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 violate the one-subject rule of article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution; (2) the plain language of Proviso 1.108 permitted the School District to implement and enforce mask mandates in its education facilities if the School District did so with funds not appropriated or authorized in the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act; (3) Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 improperly invade the authority of local school boards; and (4) Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 denied equal protection to students and violated their constitutional right to free public education. The Supreme Court held the provisos were constitutional, and rejected the remaining challenges to the validity of the provisos. View "Richland County School District 2 v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sought a declaration by the South Carolina Supreme Court concerning the use of facemasks in the public schools of South Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic. The Court construed Proviso 117.190 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act relating to public institutions of higher learning, and determined from the language in that proviso that the University of South Carolina was not precluded from issuing a universal mask mandate that applied equally to vaccinated and unvaccinated students and faculty alike. This case involved a different proviso from the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act: Proviso 1.108, relating to public schools serving students grades kindergarten through 12 (K-12). Proviso 1.108 manifestly set forth the intent of the legislature to prohibit mask mandates funded by the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act in K-12 public schools. The Attorney General contended the City of Columbia passed ordinances in direct opposition to Proviso 1.108, mandating masks in all K-12 public schools in the City of Columbia. "While allowing school districts flexibility to encourage one policy or the other, the state legislature has elected to leave the ultimate decision to parents. Conversely, the City of Columbia has attempted to mandate masks for all school children by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which has the effect of disallowing parents a say in the matter." The Supreme Court upheld Proviso 1.108 and declared void the challenged ordinances of the City of Columbia insofar as they purported to impose a mask mandate in K-12 public schools. View "Wilson v. City of Columbia" on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this declaratory action before the South Carolina Supreme Court in its original jurisdiction was a challenge to the constitutionality of Governor Henry McMaster's allocation of $32 million in federal emergency education funding for the creation of the Safe Access to Flexible Education ("SAFE") Grants Program. Petitioners contended the program violated South Carolina's constitutional mandate prohibiting public funding of private schools. The Supreme Court held the Governor's decision constituted the use of public funds for the direct benefit of private educational institutions within the meaning of, and prohibited by, Article XI, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution. "Even in the midst of a pandemic, our State Constitution remains a constant, and the current circumstances cannot dictate our decision. Rather, no matter the circumstances, the Court has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution." View "Adams v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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Melissa Spalt was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. When she refused to submit to a breath test, the arresting officer issued a "notice of suspension" of her driver's license. Spalt requested a hearing before the South Carolina Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH) to challenge her suspension, as permitted by subsection 56-5-2951(B)(2). The OMVH scheduled a hearing for June 23, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. On June 18, Spalt's attorney notified the OMVH he was scheduled to be in court at the time of the new OMVH hearing. Spalt's attorney emailed the agency and hearing officer multiple times to reschedule the hearing; there was no indication in the record that the OMVH hearing officer responded to the attorney's last emails. At the time of the hearing, Spalt's attorney did not appear. The hearing officer entered an "Order of Dismissal", finding "Neither [Spalt] nor her counsel appeared at the hearing and therefore waived the right to challenge the pending suspension." The hearing officer did not conduct a hearing on the merits of the suspension. Spalt appealed to the ALC, which reversed and remanded to the OMVH for a hearing on the merits. The Department of Motor Vehicles appealed the ALC's order to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the basis the ALC's order was not immediately appealable. The Department appealed again to the South Carolina Supreme Court, but finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "Spalt v. South Carolina Dept. Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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Appellants, who are current and former certified educators employed by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) in the Palmetto Unified School District (PUSD), collectively appealed the Administrative Law Court's (ALC's) order that affirmed the State Employee Grievance Committee's decision denying their grievances regarding the SCDC's Reduction-in-Force (RIF) implemented in 2003. On appeal, Appellants contended the ALC erred in failing to enforce: (1) the plain language of the RIF policy; (2) the controlling legislation applicable to the PUSD and the RIF policy; (3) Appellants' constitutional rights with respect to employment; and (4) Appellants' rights as "covered employees" with respect to the RIF policy. Based on these alleged errors, Appellants asserted they were entitled to reinstatement to employment as well as back pay and benefits. Because the RIF was deemed "procedurally correct," the Supreme Court concluded the ALC correctly affirmed the Committee's decision regarding the inclusion of the PUSD in the RIF. However the Court concluded that the SCDC violated statutory law in precluding Appellants from exercising their priority right to recall as to the positions vacated by retirees. Because the "Retirement Opportunity" offered by the SCDC required a fifteen-day break in service before rehiring, the Court found that "window" constituted a vacancy for which Appellants should have been offered the opportunity for employment. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded this case to the Committee to determine the appropriate relief. View "Bell v. SCDC" on Justia Law