Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Board of Education of Highland School v. Doe
A preliminary injunction required the Highland School District Board to treat an 11-year old transgender special-needs student as a female and permit her to use the girls’ restroom. Highland moved to stay the injunction pending appeal and to file an appendix under seal. The Sixth Circuit granted the motion to file under seal only with respect to four exhibits that were filed under seal in the trial court. In denying a stay, the court noted the girl’s personal circumstances—her young age, mental health history, and unique vulnerabilities—and that her use of the girls’ restroom for over six weeks has greatly alleviated her distress. Maintaining the status quo in this case will protect the girl from the harm that would befall her if the injunction is stayed. Public interest weights strongly against a stay of the injunction; the protection of constitutional and civil rights is always in the public interest. View "Board of Education of Highland School v. Doe" on Justia Law
Gohl v. Livonia Pub. Schs.
J.G.’s mother, Gohl, enrolled J.G. (age 3) in the Webster School Moderate Cognitive Impairment Program. During the year, his teacher,Turbiak, a 12-year special education teacher, faced criticism that she was overly harsh. It was reported that she pushed on children’s shoulders, once force-fed a gagging and crying student, and lifted children by one arm. During a meeting with Principal Moore, Turbiak admitted that she was “stressed out.” Although Moore told Turbiak not to do so, Turbiak called a meeting to find out who had complained. Turbiak’s co-workers returned to Moore, fearing retaliation. Turbiak was sent home for a few days and warned to be more professional, or face disciplinary action. The letter did not accuse Turbiak of abusing students. For four months, no one reported any problems. Then a social worker saw Turbiak “grab [J.G.] by the top of his head and jerk it back quite aggressively.” Turbiak claimed she was using a “redirecting” technique to focus J.G.’s attention after he threw a toy. A special education teacher familiar with this technique thought this sounded reasonable and returned Turbiak to her classroom. After a subsequent investigation, the district placed Turbiak on administrative leave. Gohl sued on J.G.’s behalf. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants; Gohl did not sufficiently allege violation of the Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Rehabilitation Act. View "Gohl v. Livonia Pub. Schs." on Justia Law
Binno v. Am. Bar Ass’n
Binno, a legally blind individual, unsuccessfully applied for admission to law schools. He then filed suit against the American Bar Association (ABA), under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that his lack of success was due to a discriminatory admissions test “mandated” by the ABA. Thar examination, the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is used by nearly all U.S. law schools. Binno claimed that the LSAT's questions have a discriminatory effect on the blind and visually impaired because a quarter of those questions “require spatial reasoning and visual diagramming for successful completion.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the complaint, concluding that Binno does not have standing to sue the ABA because his injury was not caused by the ABA and because it is unlikely that his injury would be redressed by a favorable decision against the ABA. The LSAT is written, administered, and scored by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which is not part of the ABA. The LSAC provides ADA accommodations (42 U.S.C. 12189) for persons with disabilities who wish to take the LSAT. The law schools to which he applied, not the ABA, determine what weight, if any, to give Binno’s LSAT score. View "Binno v. Am. Bar Ass'n" on Justia Law
Szeinbach v. Ohio State Univ.
OSU hired Szeinbach in 1999 as a tenured professor in the College of Pharmacy, which then included doctors Vazquez (of Spanish origin) and Balkrishnan (of Indian origin). In 2005-2006, Szeinbach allegedly observed Balkrishnan and others discriminate against Seoane and that Balkrishnan favored Indian students. Szeinbach emailed the dean, stating that an evaluation of Seoane was “intentionally very biased.” Seoane filed an EEOC charge. Szeinbach later alleged that she had supported Seoane’s efforts by providing a copy of her email to the dean. She filed an internal complaint, alleging retaliation for her support of Seoane. In 2007 Balkrishnan wrote to the Primary Care Respiratory Journal, claiming that an article that Szeinbach had published was nearly identical to an article that Szeinbach had published in 2005. Balkrishnan sent similar correspondence to the dean and others and filed an internal complaint. A Committee concluded that Szeinbach’s use of and failure to cite her 2005 article demonstrated the “poorest of scholarly practices,” but closed its investigation. Balkrishnan continued to pursue the matter and, in a faculty meeting, called Szeinbach a “bitch.” In her suit for discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, the jury awarded her $300,000 in damages for emotional suffering and harm to her professional reputation and $213,368 to account for income that Szeinbach allegedly would have earned absent OSU’s illegal conduct. The court reduced Szeinbach’s damages by $213,368. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding her evidence “wholly speculative.” View "Szeinbach v. Ohio State Univ." on Justia Law
Stiles v. Grainger County, Tenn.
DS attended Rutledge School, 2010-2012 as a seventh and eighth grader, where he was was involved in several verbal and physical altercations with other students. DS and his mother repeatedly complained to school officials that other students were bullying DS. School officials investigated these complaints, disciplined the students found culpable, and took other proactive measures such as placing DS in different classes from his alleged harassers. Despite these efforts, DS continued to have problems with other students, culminating in an attack in the school bathroom that led DS to transfer to another school. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a complaint alleging violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and deprivation of DS’s constitutional rights to equal protection and substantive due process under 42 U.S.C. 1983. There was no evidence concerning how the defendants treated other students—male or female, heterosexual or homosexual—who similarly complained about bullying. “The law does not require that [defendants] . . . have a pleasant demeanor” in responding to harassment, but only that they respond to it in a manner that is not clearly unreasonable; the defendants acted on DS’s complaints. There was no state-created danger, nor any special duty to protect. View "Stiles v. Grainger County, Tenn." on Justia Law
Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Schs
The Frys’ daughter, E.F., suffers from cerebral palsy and was prescribed a service dog to assist her with everyday tasks. Her school, which provided her with a human aid as part of her Individualized Education Program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. 1415) refused to permit her to bring her service dog to school. The Frys sued. The district court dismissed on the grounds that because the Frys’ claims necessarily implicated E.F.’s IEP, the IDEA’s exhaustion provision required the Frys to exhaust IDEA administrative procedures prior to bringing suit under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the IDEA exhaustion provision does not apply because the Frys did not seek relief provided by IDEA procedures. Because the specific injuries the Frys allege are essentially educational, they are exactly the sort of injuries the IDEA aims to prevent, so the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement applies to the Frys’ claims. View "Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Schs" on Justia Law
Domingo v. Kowalski
Three special-education students claimed that Kowalski abused her students during the 2003–2004 school year by, among other things, gagging one student with a bandana to stop him from spitting, strapping another to a toilet to keep her from falling from the toilet, and forcing another to sit with her pants down on a training toilet in full view of her classmates to assist her with toilet-training. They alleged that Kowalski’s supervisors were deliberately indifferent to this alleged abuse, and that North Point created an environment primed for abuse by its adoption of allegedly unconstitutional policies and practices. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants in the suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, because Kowalski’s instructional techniques, while inappropriate and even “abusive,” did not rise to the conscience-shocking level required of a substantive due process claim; because Kowalski’s supervisors had insufficient notice of her actions to be found deliberately indifferent; and because North Point’s policies and practices were not constitutionally inadequate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that, as a matter of law, Kowalski’s conduct did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. View "Domingo v. Kowalski" on Justia Law
Hearring v. Sliwowski
In 2009, a first grade student complained to a teacher that her genitals hurt and the teacher sent her to the school nurse who visually inspected the girl. Plaintiff, the girl's mother, filed a money-damages action against the nurse and the school district for conducting a search in violation of her child’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court subsequently issued an injunction that required the school system to train its nurses more effectively to prevent incidents of this sort from happening again. The court reversed the injunction because: (1) the mother did not seek such an injunction; (2) the undisturbed (and now unappealed) jury verdict that no constitutional violation occurred eliminated the factual predicate for such an injunction; and (3) the mother (and daughter) lacked standing to obtain such an injunction anyway. The court directed the district court to enter judgment in favor of the school district. View "Hearring v. Sliwowski" on Justia Law