Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Muskrat v. Deer Creek Public Schools
Paul and Melinda Muskrat brought a civil rights action on behalf of their disabled son against the school district where he attended school for several years and against certain school district employees. The Muskrats alleged that the defendants unconstitutionally subjected their son to timeouts and physical abuse. The school district moved to dismiss, arguing that the Muskrats had not exhausted their claims through administrative procedures established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The district court denied this motion, ruling that the Muskrats had no obligation to exhaust their claims. The case then proceeded to discovery and the defendants eventually moved for summary judgment, arguing that no constitutional violation occurred. The district court agreed and granted defendants' motions. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects. "First, plaintiffs' claims [did] not fail for lack of exhaustion. Second, reaching the merits, the district court did not err in concluding the defendants' conduct did not shock the conscience, nor did it have an obligation to evaluate the claims under the reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment." View "Muskrat v. Deer Creek Public Schools" on Justia Law
Taylor v. Roswell Independent School Dist.
Plaintiffs were high school students from Roswell, New Mexico who belonged to a religious group called "Relentless." They sued the Roswell Independent school district and its superintendent seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for allegedly violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by preventing them from distributing 2500 rubber fetus dolls to other students. They also challenged the District's policies requiring preapproval before distributing any non-school-sponsored materials on school grounds. Teachers complained that students' preoccupation with the dolls disrupted classroom instruction: "[w]hile teachers were trying to instruct, students threw dolls and doll heads across classrooms, at one another, and into wastebaskets. Some teachers said the disruptions took eight to 10 minutes each class period, and others said their teaching plans were derailed entirely. An honors freshman English class canceled a scheduled test because students had become engaged in name calling and insults over the topic of abortion. A Roswell security officer described the day as 'a disaster' because of the dolls." A magistrate judge granted summary judgment for the District on all claims and Plaintiffs appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiffs' free speech, free exercise and equal protection claims. The Court also affirmed dismissal of Plaintiffs' facial challenge to the District's preapproval policies. View "Taylor v. Roswell Independent School Dist. " on Justia Law
Jefferson County School v. Elizabeth E.
Defendant-Appellee Elizabeth E. was a student in the Jefferson County, Colorado school system with substantial behavioral and emotional issues for which she required special education under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"). In November 2008, Elizabeth's parents, Roxanne B. and David E. enrolled her at Innercept, LLC, a residential treatment center in Idaho, and sought reimbursement from Plaintiff-Appellant Jefferson County School District R-1 (the "District"). An Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) concluded Parents were entitled to reimbursement for the placement under the Act. That decision was affirmed by a state Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), whose decision was, in turn, affirmed by the Colorado federal district court. The District appealed, arguing Innercept was not a reimbursable placement under the IDEA and that Parents' conduct precluded reimbursement. Finding that Innercept was indeed a reimbursable placement, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order. View "Jefferson County School v. Elizabeth E." on Justia Law
Petrella, et al v. DeBacker, et al
In this litigation, Appellants (plaintiffs below) brought an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the statutory scheme by which the state of Kansas funds its public schools. The district court dismissed their suit for lack of standing. Upon review of the matter and the applicable statutory authority, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the Appellants had standing because their alleged injury, unequal treatment by the state, would be redressed by a favorable decision. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Petrella, et al v. DeBacker, et al" on Justia Law
Ebonie S. v. Pueblo School District 60, et al
The issue on appeal before the Tenth Circuit in this case was whether the use of a particular desk in special education classrooms was permissible under the United States Constitution. The desks in question wrap around the student on the front and the sides and have a securing bar that runs behind the student’s chair. A student can only remove herself by sliding under or crawling over the desk’s surface when the bar is in place. Ebonie S., a young girl with multiple disabilities, was often required to sit in this type of desk. Ebonie’s mother, Mary S., filed suit on her behalf under 42 U.S.C. 1983, contending that the use of the desk violated the Fourth Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on the constitutional claims, but denied summary judgment on the statutory claims. Plaintiff appealed the grants of summary judgment. "Plaintiff devote[ed] much effort to arguing that the use of the desk was prohibited under Colorado law and was contrary to well-established educational standards. But it is not our office to decide the lawfulness of the desk under state law or the wisdom of using the desk as a matter of pedagogical policy. . . . We hold only that use of the desk under the circumstances presented did not violate the Fourth or the Fourteenth Amendments." View "Ebonie S. v. Pueblo School District 60, et al" on Justia Law
James v. Independent Sch. Dist. I-050
Plaintiffs Ginger James and Deborah Tennison brought suit under 42 U.S.C.1983 alleging Defendant Prue Public Schools’ (the District) termination of their employment violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They appealed a summary judgment that rejected their claims, in which the district court determined (1) their pre-termination hearing satisfied their due-process rights, and (2) they failed to show their speech was a motivating factor for the termination. The School Board became concerned about the District’s finances. It initiated a financial investigation by retaining a financial consultant and terminated the treasurer’s employment. Without recommending any particular positions to be cut, Jones further opined there would have to be some reduction in personnel and it appeared the District had too many administrators. Eliminating the positions of an elementary and a high-school principal, it decided, would have the least impact on the students and was in the District’s best interest. Accordingly, the Board voted to eliminate the positions due to lack of funds and to dismiss Plaintiffs. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the issues Plaintiffs raised in their appeal did not create a genuine issue of material fact regarding a denial of due process. Furthermore, they did not establish the occurrence and/or the content of the speech sufficiently for the district court to hold in their favor. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision. View "James v. Independent Sch. Dist. I-050" on Justia Law