Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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S.S. was a student in the Cobb County School District. S.S.’s parents challenged the adequacy of the individualized educational plans. S.S.’s parents fought the school district for two years and eventually filed an administrative complaint requesting a due process hearing under the Act with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings. In the administrative complaint, S.S. alleged that the school district failed to provide her with a free and appropriate public education under the Act. The school district moved for summary determination of the administrative complaint. S.S. challenged the administrative law judge’s decision in the Northern District of Georgia.The district court denied the school district’s motion for summary judgment and remanded to the administrative law judge for a due process hearing. The school district appealed the district court’s remand order.   The DC Circuit concluded that remand orders from district courts to administrative agencies for further proceedings under the Act are not final and appealable under section 1291. And because the district court’s remand order was not final and appealable, the court wrote it lacks appellate jurisdiction to review it. Accordingly, the court dismissed the school district’s appeal. View "S.S. v. Cobb County School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Speech First, is a voluntary membership organization dedicated to protecting students’ free-speech rights. It represents students who attend universities across the country, including the University of Central Florida (“UCF”). Several of Speech First’s UCF-based members have attested that they desire to express their beliefs and opinions about a range of topics but are inhibited from doing so by two University policies referred to as the “discriminatory- harassment” and “bias-related-incidents” policies. Shortly after filing suit, Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction, which the district court denied.The Eleventh Circuit reversed in part and vacated in part the district court’s decision denying Plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction in its First Amendment violation claim against the University of Central Florida. The court held Plaintiff has standing to sue because the challenged policies chill its members’ speech and that the discriminatory-harassment policy likely violates the First Amendment.  Further, because the district court never considered the bias-related-incidents policy’s constitutionality on the merits—having erroneously concluded that Speech First lacked standing to challenge it, the court remanded for a determination of that issue.   The court reasoned that the discriminatory harassment and bias-related-incident policies objectively chill speech because its operation would cause a reasonable student to fear expressing potentially unpopular beliefs. Further, the court concluded that Plaintiff is substantially likely to establish that the discriminatory-harassment policy is both (1) impermissibly overbroad and (2) content and viewpoint-based restriction of speech. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Alexander Cartwright" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against University officials, alleging that the University's policy requiring a permit to engage in public speech on the University's sidewalk violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Eleventh Circuit previously concluded, among other things, that plaintiff had not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his case and agreed with the district court that the sidewalk at issue is a limited public forum and thus the University's permit requirement needed to be only reasonable and view-point neutral.In this appeal, after careful consideration and with the benefit of oral argument—and even assuming that the City of Tuscaloosa owns the sidewalk at issue—the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with plaintiff that any facts material to its analysis have changed. Accordingly, the court again concluded that the sidewalk is a limited public forum. The court also reviewed the permitting requirement and found that the policy provisions on leafletting were reasonable, and that plaintiff's actions do not fall within the "casual recreational and social activities" exception. The court concluded that the University's advance-notice requirement was reasonable where the University phrases the ten-day advance-notice period in terms of "should," not "must," and the record contains no evidence that the University has rejected an application simply because it was not submitted ten days before the event. Furthermore, the University's reasons for the advance-notice requirement are also reasonable, and the sidewalk is a limited public forum. Moreover, the policy permits the fast-tracking of a permit if an event relates to a current issue or responds to another event. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Keister v. Bell" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit concluded that John Doe, a pseudonymous student at Samford University, has not stated a claim against the university for a violation of Title IX, based on a university disciplinary board finding him responsible for sexual assault and suspending him for five years. The court concluded that the alleged facts do not permit a reasonable inference that the university discriminated against Doe "on the basis of sex" where the alleged procedural irregularities do not make sex discrimination plausible; the alleged public pressure and public statements do not make sex discrimination plausible; and the Clery statistics do not change the plausibility of the Title IX claim.The court also concluded that the Title IX claim failed under the Yusuf tests; nor has Doe satisfied the selective enforcement test. Finally, the court concluded that the appeal from the denial of the motion to proceed under a pseudonym is moot. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of the university and dismissed as moot the appeal from the denial of the motion to proceed under a pseudonym. View "Doe v. Samford University" on Justia Law

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A teacher smelled marijuana burning in the classroom and alerted Principal Stamps and Assistant Principal Byars, who searched the belongings of every student in the class. They found marijuana stems and seeds, rolling paper, lighters, and assorted pills in T.R.’s backpack. T.R. denied smoking marijuana in the classroom that day. T.R. contends that during a first search, in a room with only Stamps and Counselor Dean, she removed her clothing, lifted her breasts, and bent over for an inspection while a window in the office, leading to a public hallway, remained uncovered. School officials did not find any drugs on T.R.’s person. T.R. alleges that school officials later again directed her to remove her clothing and she submitted. T.R. stated that she was on her menstrual cycle, which made her feel “humiliated.” T.R.’s teacher found the remains of the marijuana cigarette under T.R.’s desk the next day.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court found that the school officials were entitled to qualified immunity and the Defendants’ conduct was not extreme and outrageous. The Eleventh Circuit reversed. To grant qualified immunity on these facts "would severely diminish the protections afforded students from strip searches" set out in Supreme Court precedent. Considering the degree of intrusiveness of the search and that school officials searched her twice, T.R.’s claim for outrage creates a sufficient question for the jury. View "T.R. v. Lamar County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Compensatory education is not an automatic remedy for a child-find violation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Compensatory educational services are designed to counteract whatever educational setbacks a child encounters because of IDEA violations—to bring her back where she would have been but for those violations. At minimum, a parent must offer evidence that a procedural violation—like the child-find violation asserted here—caused a substantive educational harm, and that compensatory educational services can remedy that past harm.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court was well within its "broad discretion and equitable authority" when it concluded that plaintiff had not shown that the school board's child-find violation resulted in educational deficits for the child that could be remediated with prospective compensatory relief. Furthermore, because the school began its special education referral process before plaintiff filed suit, she cannot show that she is entitled to attorney's fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "J.N. v. Jefferson County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a cheerleader at Kennesaw State University, filed suit alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985(3) after she and her teammates kneeled during the pre-game national anthem at one of the university's football games to protest police brutality against African Americans and to advance the cause of racial justice. Plaintiff claimed that there was a public and private conspiracy to deprive her and her teammates of their First Amendment rights. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred by dismissing plaintiff's section 1985(3) claim against the sheriff.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's claim against the sheriff, agreeing with the district court that plaintiff failed to surmount section 1985(3)'s class-based animus bar under the standard established by Supreme Court precedent. The court concluded that plaintiff's direct race-based theory cannot succeed because she failed to plead sufficient facts supporting it; plaintiff's indirect race-based claim failed to allege animus under Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263 (1993); and plaintiff's political class-based theory is also precluded by Bray. View "Dean v. Warren" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its previous opinion and substituted it with this opinion. This revised opinion does not reach the Title IX question and reaches only one ground under the Equal Protection Clause instead of the three Equal Protection rulings the court made in the August 7 opinion.Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate and a transgender young man, filed suit against the school board through his next friend and mother, alleging violations of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The court affirmed the district court's entry of judgment in favor of plaintiff on the equal protection claim under the heightened intermediate scrutiny standard, concluding that the school district's policy barring plaintiff from the boys' restroom violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, because the school district assigns students to sex-specific bathrooms in an arbitrary manner. In this case, the school board has not met its "demanding" constitutional burden by showing a substantial relationship between its policy for excluding transgender students from certain restrooms and student privacy. The court affirmed the district court's award of damages because plaintiff undoubtedly suffered harm as a result of this violation. Because plaintiff prevails on his equal protection claim, which fully entitles him to the relief granted by the district court, the court declined to reach his Title IX claim. View "Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County, Florida" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a recent high school graduate and a transgender young man, filed suit against the school board through his next friend and mother, alleging violations of his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment granting plaintiff relief on both claims and held that the school district's policy barring plaintiff from the boys' restroom does not square with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and Title IX's prohibition of sex discrimination. Applying heightened scrutiny, the court held that the record does not demonstrate that the school board has met its "demanding" constitutional burden by showing a substantial relationship between excluding transgender students from communal restrooms and student privacy. In this case, the policy is administered arbitrarily; the school board's privacy concerns about plaintiff's use of the boys' bathroom are merely hypothesized, with no support in the factual record; and the bathroom policy subjects plaintiff to unfavorable treatment simply because he defies gender stereotypes as a transgender person. Therefore, because the record reveals no substantial relationship between privacy in the school district restrooms and excluding plaintiff from the boys' restroom, the bathroom policy violates the Equal Protection Clause.Applying the Supreme Court's recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), the court held that excluding plaintiff from the boys' bathroom amounts to sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. The court explained that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on their transgender status; the school district treated plaintiff differently because of his transgender status and this different treatment caused him harm; and nothing in Title IX's regulations or any administrative guidance on Title IX excuses the discriminatory policy. Furthermore, plaintiff's discrimination claim does not contradict Title IX's implementing regulation. View "Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County" on Justia Law

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The question of whether all speech over the microphone was government speech is a heavily fact-intensive one that looks at the history of the government's use of the medium for communicative purposes, the implication of government endorsement of messages carried over that medium, and the degree of government control over those messages. After FHSAA denied access to a loudspeaker for a proposed religious speech before a high school football game, Cambridge Christian filed suit alleging claims arising under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the United States and Florida Constitutions. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim.The Eleventh Circuit held that Cambridge Christian's claims for relief under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses have been adequately and plausibly pled. In this case, the history factor weighed against finding government speech and the control factor was indeterminate. Therefore, based on the limited record, the court found that it was plausible that the multitude of messages delivered over the loudspeaker should be viewed as private, not government, speech. While the court agreed with the district court that the loudspeaker was a nonpublic forum, the court held that Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged that it was arbitrarily and haphazardly denied access to the forum in violation of the First Amendment. The court also could not say that in denying communal prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA did not infringe on Cambridge Christian's free exercise of religion. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's decision in part.The court affirmed the district court's decision holding that Cambridge Christian failed to plead a substantial burden under the Florida Religious Free Restoration Act (FRFRA) because it has not alleged that the FHSAA forbade it from engaging in conduct that its religion mandates. The court also affirmed the district court's decision insofar as it rejected Cambridge Christian's request for declaratory relief under the Establishment Clauses. View "Cambridge Christian School, Inc. v. Florida High School Athletic Assoc., Inc." on Justia Law