Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al.
On October 25, 2011, Appellant Nicole B.’s then-eight-year-old son N.B. was sexually assaulted by three of his male fourth-grade classmates in a bathroom at his public elementary school in the City of Philadelphia. According to Appellant, N.B. had endured two months of pervasive physical and verbal harassment at school leading up to the sexual assault. During that time, both Appellant and N.B. reported the harassment to his teacher and to school administrators, to no avail. In November 2011, Appellant withdrew N.B. from the elementary school after learning of the attack. Over two years later, in 2014, Appellant filed an administrative complaint with the Human Relations Commission against the Philadelphia School District (“District”) in her individual capacity and on N.B.’s behalf, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of gender and race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The Human Relations Commission rejected Appellant’s complaint as untimely, because it was filed beyond the 180-day time limit. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether principles of equitable tolling found in PHRA, or Pennsylvania’s Minority Tolling Statute (“Minority Tolling Statute”), applied to an otherwise untimely complaint. After review, the Supreme Court found the PHRA’s equitable tolling provision applied to a minor whose parent failed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations for filing an administrative complaint prior to the minor reaching the age of majority. By this finding, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al." on Justia Law
Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in determining a school bus surveillance video sought in a request for public records pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) was not exempt from disclosure under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. 1232g. Rudy Miller, on behalf of The Express Times (collectively, Requester), submitted a RTKL request to the District. Therein, Requester sought information in connection with an incident involving an elementary school teacher who, according to Requester, had roughly physically disciplined a child on a school bus outside of the school. Although its rationale departed from the analysis of the Commonwealth Court, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s order, with instructions to redact students’ images from the video prior to disclosure. View "Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller" on Justia Law
APSCUF v. PLRB
In this appeal by allowance, the issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's (“State System”) policy regarding the protection of minors ― requiring, inter alia, that faculty members submit to criminal background checks and report to their university employers if they are arrested or convicted of a serious crime, or found or indicated to be a perpetrator of child abuse ― constituted an inherent managerial policy or prerogative, rendering it nonbargainable for purposes of collective bargaining between the faculty and the State System. The Supreme Court determined the policy at issue constituted a nonbargainable inherent managerial policy. The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, which held to the contrary. View "APSCUF v. PLRB" on Justia Law
Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al,
Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law
Burke v. Independence Blue Cross
Anthony Burke was a child diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder. Throughout the first six months of 2010, Anthony and his family were covered by a group health insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Appellant, Independence Blue Cross (“Insurer”), maintained through Anthony’s father, John Burke’s employer. Initially, Anthony received “applied behavioral analysis” (ABA) treatment at home. In August 2009, before an Autism Coverage Law became effective relative to the Burkes’ coverage, the family requested benefits, under the Policy, for ABA services to be provided at the parochial elementary school attended by Anthony. Insurer denied coverage on account of an express place-of-services exclusion in the Policy delineating that services would not be covered if the care was provided in certain locations, including schools. In a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mr. Burke argued that the place-of-services exclusion in the Policy was nullified, as it pertained to in-school services, by the Autism Coverage Law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Legislature intended to permit only general exclusions that would not substantially undermine the mandatory coverage requirement: “we simply do not believe that the Legislature intended to permit insurers to exclude coverage in the sensory-laden educational environment where children spend large portions of their days, or to require families to litigate the issue of medical necessity discretely in individual cases to secure such location-specific coverage for the treatment.” The Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the Burkes, and that the Policy’s place-of-services exclusion was ineffective under the Autism Recovery Law. View "Burke v. Independence Blue Cross" on Justia Law
William Penn Sch. Dist. et al, v. Dept of Educ.
Appellant-Petitioners in this case were school districts, individuals, and groups with an interest in the quality of public education in Pennsylvania. They contended that the General Assembly and other Respondents collectively failed to live up to the mandate to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” They further alleged the hybrid state-local approach to school financing resulted in untenable funding and resource disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts. They claim that the General Assembly’s failure legislatively to ameliorate those disparities to a greater extent than it does constitutes a violation of the equal protection of law guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Commonwealth Court, sitting in its original jurisdiction, dismissed both claims at the pleading stage, relying on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s prior dispositions of similar cases. Arguably, these prior decisions held that such challenges were political questions that the courts could not adjudicate without infringing upon the constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, however, finding colorable Petitioners’ allegation that the General Assembly imposed a classification whereunder distribution of state funds results in widespread deprivations in economically disadvantaged districts of the resources necessary to attain a constitutionally adequate education. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court erred in determining that Petitioners’ equal protection claims are non-justiciable. “Whether Petitioners’ equal protection claims are viewed as intertwined with their Education Clause claims or assessed independently, those claims are not subject to judicial abstention under the political question doctrine. It remains for Petitioners to substantiate and elucidate the classification at issue and to establish the nature of the right to education, if any, to determine what standard of review the lower court must employ to evaluate their challenge. But Petitioners are entitled to the opportunity to do so.” View "William Penn Sch. Dist. et al, v. Dept of Educ." on Justia Law
Pocono Mtn. Sch. Dist. v. Dept. of Educ.
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, pursuant to section 8327(b)(2) of the Public School Employees’ Retirement Code, 24 Pa.C.S.A. 8327(b)(2), the school district that originally approved the creation of a charter school was financially responsible, after the revocation of the charter, for the charter school’s prior failure to make payments to its employees’ retirement fund. The Court surmised the question hinged upon whether unpaid retirement contributions constituted an outstanding obligation of the closed charter school. The Court concluded that the deficiency resulting from the failure to make the payments was indeed an outstanding financial obligation of a closed charter school and therefore, pursuant to section 17-1729-A(i) of the Charter School Law, 24 P.S. section 17-1729-A(i), the school district could not be held liable for the amounts owed. View "Pocono Mtn. Sch. Dist. v. Dept. of Educ." on Justia Law
W. Phila A.C.E. Sch. v. S.D. of Phila.
Responding to adverse financial conditions in the Philadelphia School District, the Pennsylvania Legislature amended the School Code in the late 1990s by adding provisions to the Distress Law tailored to school districts of the first class. In this matter, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether legislation designed to help the Philadelphia School District recover from financial hardship violated the non-delegation rule. The Court held that Section 696(i)(3) of the School Code, 24 P.S. sec. 6-696(i)(3), was unconstitutional, violating the non-delegation rule of Article II, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Accordingly Respondents’ actions taken pursuant to that provision were null and void, and Respondents were permanently enjoined from taking further action under the authority it conferred. View "W. Phila A.C.E. Sch. v. S.D. of Phila." on Justia Law
CWC v. Penn-Trafford
In a discretionary appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Transfer between Entities Act (a provision of the Public School Code designed to protect teachers affected by inter-school transfers of educational programs) applied where the transferred students were placed into pre-existing classes and no new classes added. The Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, a public vocational technical school (the “Vocational School”), provided career and technical training to high school students from numerous sending school districts within Westmoreland County, including Appellee Penn-Trafford School District (“Penn-Trafford”). For a number of years, the Vocational School taught math to students from the high schools in such districts who were enrolled in career and technical programs at the Vocational School. During this time, the sending school districts were providing the same math instruction to students in their high schools who were not enrolled at the Vocational School. In early 2010, eight sending school districts, including Penn-Trafford, advised the Vocational School that, beginning with the 2010-11 school year, they would be providing math instruction to the vocational students at the students’ home high schools rather than sending them to the Vocational School for math. Due to these changes, the Vocational School curtailed its math offerings and suspended five certified math teachers. The Supreme Court concluded that the transfer of students and the assumption of program responsibility by the receiving entity were alone sufficient to implicate the protections conferred under the Act. The Commonwealth Court's order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "CWC v. Penn-Trafford" on Justia Law