Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court
Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE–1
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) offers states federal funds to provide every eligible child a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), by means of an “individualized education program” (IEP). 20 U.S.C. 1401(9)(D), 1412(a)(1), “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.” For children fully integrated in the regular classroom, this typically requires an IEP “reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.” Endrew, who has autism, received annual IEPs. By fourth grade, Endrew’s parents believed his academic and functional progress had stalled and enrolled him in a specialized private school, where he made significant progress. School district representatives later presented a new fifth grade IEP, but the parents considered it no better than the original plan. They sought reimbursement for tuition. The Colorado Department of Education denied the claim. The district court and Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated. A school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. Focus on the particular child is the core of the IDEA. Precedent does not provide concrete guidance concerning a child who is not fully integrated in the regular classroom and not able to achieve on grade level. A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. This standard is more demanding than the “merely more than de minimis” test applied by the Tenth Circuit. The Court declined to hold that the Act requires states to provide educational opportunities that are “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.” The adequacy of an IEP turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created. View "Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE–1" on Justia Law
Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides federal funds to states for furnishing a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to children with disabilities, 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(1)(A), and establishes administrative procedures for resolving disputes concerning the provision of a FAPE. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act also protect the rights of disabled children; under the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986, a plaintiff bringing suit under those or similar laws “seeking relief that is also available under [the IDEA]” must first exhaust IDEA administrative procedures. E. is a child with cerebral palsy; a trained service dog (Wonder) assists her with daily activities. Her school refused to allow Wonder to join E. in kindergarten, stating that the human aide provided as part of E.’s individualized education program rendered the dog superfluous. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found that the determination violated the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. School officials invited E. to return to school with Wonder. Her parents enrolled E. in a different school, then filed suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal for failure to exhaust IDEA administrative procedures. The Supreme Court vacated. Exhaustion of IDEA administrative procedures is unnecessary where the gravamen of the lawsuit is something other than denial of a FAPE. The IDEA focuses on ensuring a FAPE for children with disabilities; its administrative procedures test whether a school has met that obligation. Determining the gravamen of a complaint can come from asking whether the plaintiff could have brought essentially the same claim if the alleged conduct had occurred at a public facility other than a school and whether an adult at the school could have pressed essentially the same grievance. The parents’ complaint alleged only disability-based discrimination, without any reference to the adequacy of the special education services. View "Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools" on Justia Law
Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin’s undergraduate admissions system offers admission to all students who graduate in the top 10% of their Texas high school class, as required by the Texas Top Ten Percent Law. It fills the remainder of its freshman class, about 25%, by combining an applicant’s “Academic Index” (SAT score and high school academic performance) with a “Personal Achievement Index,” a holistic review containing numerous factors, including race. The University adopted the system in 2004, after a year-long-study of its admissions process—undertaken following two Supreme Court decisions—led it to conclude that its prior race-neutral system did not reach its goal of providing the educational benefits of diversity. Fisher was denied admission to the 2008 freshman class. She alleged that the University’s consideration of race disadvantaged her and other Caucasian applicants, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. On remand for application of the strict scrutiny standard, the Fifth Circuit again affirmed summary judgment in the University’s favor. The Supreme Court affirmed. The race-conscious admissions program is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. The compelling interest that justifies consideration of race in college admissions is not an interest in enrolling a certain number of minority students, but an interest in obtaining “the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.” The University articulated concrete and precise goals—e.g., ending stereotypes, promoting “cross-racial understanding,” preparing students for “an increasingly diverse workforce and society,” and cultivating leaders with “legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry” and gave a “reasoned, principled explanation” for its decision. The University’s conclusion that race-neutral programs had not achieved its diversity goals was supported by significant statistical and anecdotal evidence, while consideration of race has had a meaningful, but limited, effect on freshman class diversity. That race consciousness played a role in a small portion of admissions decisions is a hallmark of narrow tailoring, not evidence of unconstitutionality. The Top Ten Percent Plan had more of an impact on Fisher’s chances of admission. The Court noted the University’s continuing obligation to satisfy the strict scrutiny burden by periodically reassessing the program and by tailoring it to ensure that race plays no greater role than necessary to meet its compelling interests. View "Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin" on Justia Law
Schuette v. Coal. Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigration Rights
After the Supreme Court decided that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions plan’s use of race-based preferences violated the Equal Protection Clause, but that its law school admission plan’s limited use did not, Michigan voters adopted a new section of the state constitution (Proposal 2), prohibiting use of race-based preferences in the admissions process for state universities. The district court upheld Proposal 2, but the Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that it violated Supreme Court precedent. The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Kennedy, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, reasoned that the principle that consideration of race in admissions is permissible when certain conditions are met was not challenged; the issue was whether, and how, state voters may choose to prohibit consideration of such racial preferences. The decision by Michigan voters reflects an ongoing national dialogue; there was no infliction of a specific injury of the type at issue in cases cited by the Sixth Circuit. Individual liberty has constitutional protection, but the Constitution also embraces the right of citizens to act through a lawful electoral process, as Michigan voters did. Justices Scalia and Thomas stated that the question here, as in every case in which neutral state action is said to deny equal protection on account of race, is whether the challenged action reflects a racially discriminatory purpose. Stating that it did not, the Justices stated that the proposition that a facially neutral law may deny equal protection solely because it has a disparate racial impact “has been squarely and soundly rejected.” Justice Breyer agreed that the amendment is consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, but reasoned that the amendment only applies to, and forbids, race-conscious admissions programs that consider race solely in order to obtain the educational benefits of a diverse student body; the Constitution permits, but does not require, the use of that kind of race-conscious program. The ballot box, not the courts, is the instrument for resolving debates about such programs. This case does not involve a diminution of the minority’s ability to participate in the political process. View "Schuette v. Coal. Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigration Rights" on Justia Law
Fisher v. Univ. of TX at Austin
Since the Court’s 2003 decision, Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Texas at Austin has considered race as a factor in undergraduate admissions. A Caucasian, rejected for admission, sued, alleging that consideration of race in admissions violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court granted summary judgment to the University. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, reasoning that the Fifth Circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Supreme Court precedent. A university must clearly demonstrate that its purpose or interest is constitutionally permissible and substantial, and that its use of the classification is necessary to the accomplishment of its purpose, and “that the reasons for any [racial] classification [are] clearly identified and unquestionably legitimate.” A court may give some deference to a university’s judgment that diversity is essential to its educational mission, if diversity is not defined as mere racial balancing and there is a reasoned, principled explanation for the academic decision. The University must prove that the means it chose to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to its goal and that admissions processes “ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant’s race or ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application.” A reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternative would produce the educational benefits of diversity. The Fifth Circuit simply presumed that the school acted in good faith and gave the plaintiff the burden of rebutting that presumption. Strict scrutiny does not permit a court to accept a school’s assertion that its admissions process uses race in a permissible way without closely examining how the process works in practice. On remand, the Fifth Circuit must assess whether the University has offered sufficient evidence to prove that its admissions program is narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity. View "Fisher v. Univ. of TX at Austin" on Justia Law
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC
Hosanna-Tabor, a member congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, operated a small school in Michigan offering a "Christian-centered education" to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The Synod classified its school teachers into two categories: "called" and "lay." "Called" teachers, among other things, were regarded as having been called to their vocation by God. To be eligible to be called from a congregation, a teacher must satisfy certain academic requirements. "Lay" or "contract" teachers, by contrast, were not required to be trained by the Synod or even to be Lutheran. "Called" teacher, Cheryl Perich filed a charge with the EEOC, claiming that her employment had been terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq. The EEOC brought suit against Hosanna-Tabor, alleging that Perich had been fired in retaliation for threatening to file an ADA lawsuit. Perich intervened. Invoking what was known as the "ministerial exception," Hosanna-Tabor argued that the suit was barred by the First Amendment because the claims concerned the employment relationship between a religious institution and one of its ministers. The Court held that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment barred suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, claiming termination in violation of employment discrimination laws. Because Perich was a minister within the meaning of the ministerial exception, the First Amendment required dismissal of this employment discrimination suit against her religious employer. View "Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC" on Justia Law
Camreta v. Greene, et al.; Alford v. Greene, et al.
Nearly a decade ago, petitioners, a state child protective services worker and a county deputy sheriff, interviewed then 9-year-old S.G. at her Oregon elementary school about allegations that her father had sexually abused her. Her father stood trial for that abuse but the jury failed to reach a verdict and the charges were later dismissed. S.G.'s mother subsequently sued petitioners on S.G.'s behalf for damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the in-school interview breached the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable seizures. The Ninth Circuit held that petitioners' conduct violated the Fourth Amendment but that they were entitled to qualified immunity from damages liability because no clearly established law had warned them of the illegality of the conduct. Although judgment was entered in petitioners' favor, they petitioned the Court to review the Ninth Circuit's ruling that their conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. At issue was whether government officials who prevailed on grounds of qualified immunity could obtain the Court's review of a court of appeals' decision that their conduct violated the Constitution. Also at issue was, if the Court could consider cases in this procedural posture, did the Ninth Circuit correctly determine that this interview breached the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that it could generally review a lower court's constitutional ruling at the behest of a government official granted immunity but could not do so in this case for reasons peculiar to it. The case had become moot because the child had grown up and moved across the country and so would never again be subject to the Oregon in-school interviewing practices whose constitutionality was at issue. Therefore, the Court did not reach the Fourth Amendment question in this case and vacated the part of the Ninth Circuit's opinion that decided the Fourth Amendment issue.