Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The parties to this matter—Plaintiff, on behalf of her son, and the Belton School District—disagree about the appropriate school placement for Plaintiff’s son pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. Section 1400 et seq. Plaintiff appealed the decision of the district court granting judgment on the administrative record to the District.   On appeal, Plaintiff asserts that transferring her son to Trails West would violate his right under the IDEA to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Alternatively, Plaintiff argued, if her son needs additional services, the District should provide them in her son’s current placement. Thus, the question is whether Kentucky Trail or Trails West is the LRE in which Plaintiff’s son can receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).   The Eighth Circuit affirmed finding no clear error in the district court’s factual findings and agreed that a preponderance of the evidence supports the AHC’s conclusion that placement at Trails West respects Plaintiff’s son's rights under the IDEA. Second, although Plaintiff emphasizes the social benefit her son receives from his more integrated placement at Kentucky Trail, the evidence shows that her son receives all of his instruction in the special education classroom and eats lunch there as well, and he has contact with nondisabled peers only when passing in the hallways or at recess. Further, there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that placement at Trails West offers substantial benefits for Plaintiff’s son. View "J.P. v. Belton School District No. 124" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the Arc of Iowa and Iowa parents whose children have serious disabilities that place them at heightened risk of severe injury or death from COVID-19, filed suit to enjoin enforcement of Iowa's law prohibiting mask requirements in schools. The district court concluded that the law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, granting a preliminary injunction completely enjoining the law.After determining that it has jurisdiction, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction because mask requirements are reasonable accommodations required by federal disability law to protect the rights of plaintiffs' children. However, the court concluded that the injunction imposed by the district court sweeps more broadly than necessary to remedy plaintiffs' injuries. Accordingly, the court vacated in part and remanded to allow the district court to enter a tailored injunction prohibiting defendants from preventing or delaying reasonable accommodations and ensures that plaintiffs' schools may provide such reasonable accommodations. View "The Arc of Iowa v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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For budget reasons, St. Cloud State University shut down six of its sports teams, including women's tennis and Nordic Skiing teams. Female student-athletes brought a Title IX discrimination action. 20 U.S.C. 1681(a). The district court preliminarily enjoined cutting the women's teams, concluding the University failed to comply with Title IX requirements in its allocation of athletic participation opportunities and treatment and benefits for student-athletes.The Eighth Circuit reversed in part and remanded. The court upheld findings that the University uses a tier system for dividing particular teams, offering different levels of support to each tier. The University violated Title IX by not providing equitable participation opportunities for men and women. The district court erred, however, by requiring the University to provide equitable treatment and benefits “among the tiers of support,” and by mandating steps toward eliminating the unequal distribution of “participation opportunities among the tiers” rather than analyzing the institution's programs as a whole. View "Portz v. St. Cloud State University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against University officials, alleging that the University's then-existing events policy was unconstitutional facially and as applied to them under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In this case, after Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV) brought Ben Shapiro to speak at the University, officials rejected various proposed venues for the event, citing security concerns. Ultimately, the officials approved a smaller, more remote venue than what SCV had requested.The Eighth Circuit concluded that SCV's facial challenges and requests for injunctive relief are now moot and that plaintiffs lack standing to maintain their as-applied claim. The court explained that the University's "Large Scale Event Process" policy had been replaced with a new "Major Events" policy, which was more detailed and pertains to the entirety of the University's campus, and plaintiffs failed to show that it is "virtually certain" that the prior policy will be reenacted. In regard to plaintiffs' as-applied claim, they have failed to show that the policy was in fact applied to them. The court stated that the record reflects that the officials' decisions were independent of the Large Scale Event Process and made within the scope of each officials' position at the University, but plaintiffs' complaint presents no First Amendment challenge to the officials' actions apart from the application of the now repealed policy. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's orders with respect to those claims and remanded with instructions to dismiss without prejudice. View "Young America's Foundation v. Kaler" on Justia Law

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After the school districts sought modification of existing desegregation consent decrees to allow their exemption from Arkansas's Public School Choice Act, Ark. Code. Ann. 6–18–1906, the district court granted the motions and modified the consent decrees to explicitly limit the transfer of students between school districts. The Department appealed, alleging that the modification imposed an impermissible interdistrict remedy.After a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's modifications, the Department moved for rehearing, at which point the United States—for the first time—involved itself in the case and asked the court to reconsider its opinion. The court accepted the invitation, received supplemental briefing from the parties, and reversed the judgment of the district court.The court agreed with the Department that the district court abused its discretion by modifying the consent decrees because the 2017 amendments were not a significant change in circumstances supporting modification of the decrees and—even if they were—the district court did not impose a suitably tailored modification. Because no vestige of discrimination traces to interdistrict school transfers, the district court abused its discretion in expanding the consent decrees to prohibit such transfers. View "United States v. Arkansas Department of Education" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the University's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' action under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs, former players of the University's women's ice hockey team, filed suit after the University cut its women's ice hockey team but not its men's ice hockey team.Given the regulatory structure and its textual content, the court disagreed with the district court's reasons for dismissing the complaint. The court explained that, when applying the 1979 Interpretation of the implementing regulation, the district court improperly relied on a compliance test from the Levels of Competition provision (VII.C.5) as the only way to analyze a claim under the separate, unrelated Selection of Sports provision (VII.C.4). The court concluded that the 1979 Interpretation's Contact Sports Clause's plain text is not inconsistent with the regulation's Separate Teams Provision. By disregarding the plain text, the court concluded that the district court erred in its analysis.Ultimately, the court concluded that the district court's primary reasons for dismissing the complaint rested on an incorrect view of the law. In this case, it appears that the district court saw the Contact-Sports-Clause claim as futile, not novel. Therefore, no set of facts could have convinced the district court to give the athletes a second look. But given a level playing field, the court concluded that the athletes may be able to state an actionable Title IX claim. The court remanded for the district court to apply the law to plaintiffs' complaint in the first instance. View "Berndsen v. North Dakota University System" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that University employees violated InterVarsity's First Amendment rights and denial of qualified immunity. In this case, the University deregistered InterVarsity as a Registered Student Organization based on the University's determination that InterVarsity had violated the University's Policy on Human Rights by requiring its leaders to subscribe to certain religious beliefs.The court agreed with the district court that the University's policy was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, but not as applied to InterVarsity. The court explained that the University's choice to selectively apply the policy against InterVarsity suggests a preference for certain viewpoints over InterVarsity's. Furthermore, these rights were clearly established at the time of the violation. View "Intervarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. University of Iowa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, parents of LD, filed suit against the school district and others after their daughter LD, a 13-year-old, 7th grade student, was sexually abused by her teacher, Brian Robeson.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the school district and the principal. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to present any evidence that the principal had actual notice of the abuse, and the principal and the school district were entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs' Title IX and 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. The court also concluded that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment in favor of the school district and principal on plaintiffs' Nebraska Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act where plaintiffs' claim arose out of Robeson's sexual assault of LD, an intentional tort to which the Act's intentional tort exception applies. The court further concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the principal on plaintiffs' aiding and abetting intentional infliction of emotional distress claim where nothing in the record, even when viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, indicates that the principal encouraged or assisted Robeson in inflicting emotional distress on LD.The court joined its sister circuits in finding that there is no right to a jury trial on the issue of damages following entry of default judgment. The court affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiffs' request for a jury trial on the issue of damages against Robeson. Finally, the court affirmed the $1,249,540.41 amount of damages awarded against Robeson. View "KD v. Douglas County School District No. 001" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, ten former University of Minnesota football players, appealed the dismissal of their Amended Complaint against the University and two University officials, asserting a variety of claims arising out of the University’s investigation of a complaint of sexual assault and harassment by another student, Jane Doe. Plaintiffs are African-American males who alleged that the University targeted them on the basis of their sex and race and unfairly punished them in response to Jane's accusations. The district court dismissed all claims.The Eighth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' complaint alleged a number of circumstances which, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiffs on the basis of sex. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that the University was biased against them because of external pressures from the campus community and the federal government, and plaintiffs alleged historical facts that reinforce the inference of bias in this specific proceeding. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Title IX discrimination claims.The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Title IX claims for retaliation where plaintiffs did not plausibly allege that their request for a Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee hearing was tantamount to a complaint of sex discrimination, and even if a request for a hearing made by a person accused of sexual misconduct could amount to protected activity, the Amended Complaint did not plausibly plead prima facie retaliation claims. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the race discrimination claims where the Amended Complaint did not plausibly allege a comparator similarly situated to plaintiffs in all relevant aspects; affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' due process claims where plaintiffs failed to exhaust the existing procedures for appealing the University's disciplinary decision and failed to allege prehearing deprivations or deprivation of protected property or liberty interests in violation of due process; and affirmed the dismissal of the contract and negligence claims on Eleventh Amendment grounds. View "John Does 1-2 v. Regents of the University of Minnesota" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the college, alleging that it mishandled the sexual misconduct disciplinary process and committed other acts of deliberate indifference in the wake of the first of two assaults. Plaintiff seeks relief under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Minnesota common law.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the college on all of plaintiff's claims. In regard to the Title IX claim, the court concluded that, on the record, it cannot say that a reasonable jury would conclude that the college's response to the sexual assault by Student One amounted to deliberate indifference. Although the court noted that the college could have been more inclusive during the sexual assault complaint and more attentive to plaintiff in the aftermath, the court agreed with the district court that permitting a meeting between plaintiff and Student One to take place, after the sexual assault proceedings had concluded, was not an act of deliberate indifference. Even if it was, it is far from clear that requiring plaintiff to attend the meeting would have violated Title IX. The court also concluded that, even assuming that track posters of Student One on campus qualify as sexual harassment for purposes of Title IX liability, the record evidence fails to support a finding that not removing the posters amounted to deliberate indifference. Finally, the evidence does not show that the college's conduct in the wake of plaintiff's complaint concerning Student Two was clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances. In regard to the ADA and Section 504 claims, the court concluded that nothing in the record suggests that the college denied plaintiff reasonable accommodations as she endeavored to finish her degree while struggling with challenges to her mental health brought on by the sexual assaults. View "Shank v. Carleton College" on Justia Law