Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Upon panel rehearing, the Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. After an administrative hearing officer found that the School District violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and awarded O.W. two years of private school tuition, the district court affirmed the award. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the IDEA's text and structure, including its implementing regulations, compel a conclusion that the child find and expedited evaluation requirements are separate and independent such that a violation of the latter does not mean a violation of the former. To the extent the district court held otherwise, the court held that this was error. The court also held that the continued use of behavioral interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the school district's child find duties and thus a child find violation occurred. The court further held that the district court erred in finding the May 6, 2015, modification represented an actionable failure to implement O.W.'s individualized education program (IEP), but correctly concluded the May 18, 2015, modification rose to the level of an actionable violation. The court remanded the remedy question to the district court for reconsideration. View "Spring Branch Independent School District v. O.W." on Justia Law

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This case arose from the tragic death of Maxwell Gruver after a fraternity hazing event at Louisiana State University (LSU). Maxwell's parents filed suit against LSU for violations of Title IX and state law, alleging that the university discriminated against male students by policing hazing in fraternities more leniently than hazing in sororities. In Pederson v. La. State Univ., 213 F.3d 858, 876 (5th Cir. 2000), the Fifth Circuit held that state recipients of Title IX funding waive their Eleventh Amendment immunity against suits alleging sex discrimination. The court held that the Supreme Court's opinion in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519 (2012), does not constitute a change in law when it comes to the analysis that Pederson and other cases used in finding waivers of sovereign immunity from states' acceptance of federal funds. Therefore, the court held that LSU has waived Eleventh Amendment immunity by accepting federal funds and affirmed the district court's denial of the university's motion to dismiss. View "Gruver v. Louisiana Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, low-income African-American women whose children attend public schools in Mississippi, filed suit against state officials, alleging that the current version of the Mississippi Constitution violates the "school rights and privileges" condition of the Mississippi Readmission Act. The district court held that the suit was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and dismissed. Although the Fifth Circuit agreed that a portion of the relief plaintiffs seek is prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment, the court held that the suit also partially sought relief that satisfied the Ex parte Young exception to sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part. View "Williams v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the county, the school board, and state officials, alleging claims arising out of the Mississippi legislature's July 2016 decision to administratively consolidate two school districts and restructure the school board responsible for governing the newly-formed district. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, and grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that the appointive structure of the interim board was rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose; plaintiffs' claim that the structure of the permanent board violates the Equal Protection clause was not supported by law and plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the statute's selective grant of the franchise; and defendants' decision to fire Montgomery County School District employees and retain employees of the former Winona Municipal Separate School District must be upheld where Winona was a higher performing school district than Montgomery, and the Superintendent may have felt that the most seamless and efficient way to implement the consolidation would be to absorb the Montgomery district into the better-performing Winona district. Finally, because plaintiffs' equal protection claims failed on the merits, they have not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success and were not entitled to preliminary relief. View "Butts v. Aultman" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a parent's motion for summary judgment against the school district for alleged procedural and substantive violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The court held that the district court did not err in finding that the parent failed to meet her burden of showing that the school district violated the procedural requirements of the IDEA. In this case, none of the incidents the parent claimed amounted to a procedural violation and the court was not convinced that the student was denied a free and appropriate public education. The court also held that there were no substantive IDEA violations. The court was satisfied that the school district took the necessary steps to ensure that the student was being properly serviced under this individualized education plan, despite his absences. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of the school district's motion for summary judgment. View "A. A. v. Northside Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the school district and its superintendent, alleging free speech and retaliation claims in violation of their First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution; and the Texas Whistleblower Act. Plaintiffs, the former principal and assistant principal of an elementary school, served on a 504 committee which convened for the purpose of implementing regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Plaintiffs were terminated after an investigation determined that they intentionally authorized inappropriate student testing accommodations based on a misapplication of Section 504 eligibility requirements. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time whether First Amendment liability can attach to a public official who did not make the final employment decision. The court also held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment claims, because plaintiffs' calls to TEA regarding Section 504 construction and application at the elementary school were clearly activities undertaken in the course of performing their jobs and these actions were therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover lost wages because they failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate their damages; the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' motion for rescission or modification; the district court did not err in instructing the jury that the IHE's findings were preclusive; and the district court did not err in relying on the jury's verdict that plaintiffs did not report a violation of law in good faith. View "Powers v. Northside Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to develop and implement an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that was reasonably calculated to provide him with educational benefits appropriate to his circumstances. Assuming arguendo that plaintiff was able to challenge all of the IEPs that the school district designed and implemented, the Fifth Circuit ultimately held that there was no IDEA violation. The court held that the district court properly considered the four factor test articulated in Cypress-Fairbanks lndep. Sch. Dist. v. Michael ex rel. Barry F., 118 F.3d 245, 247 (5th Cir. 1997), and concluded that all factors weighed in favor of the school district. In this case, the school district expended a great amount of time and resources developing and implementing an IEP that was based on multiple in-depth evaluations of plaintiff's unique needs and abilities with significant input from plaintiff's parents and expert consultants, and plaintiff achieved at least some academic and nonacademic benefits as a result of his plan. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiff on his IDEA claim and dismissal of his remaining claims. View "R. S. v. Highland Park Independent School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of her 12 year old son, alleging that an assistant principal violated her son's Fourth Amendment rights by searching his pockets after a teacher caught him selling contraband candy. Plaintiff initially alleged that the principal had grabbed her son's genitalia. The district court denied the principal qualified immunity. After the undisputed record evidence later demonstrated that, at most, the principal had only searched the boy's pocket and did not grab his genitalia, the district court granted the principal qualified immunity. On appeal, plaintiff complained that the district court misunderstood her earlier argument and that she never claimed that the principal grabbed her son's genitalia, but that he unreasonably searched the son's pockets. Accepting plaintiff's contention as true, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court should have granted qualified immunity to the principal earlier. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment. View "S. O. v. Hinds County School District" on Justia Law

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After M.L. was dismissed from the cheerleading squad when her coaches discovered her Twitter posts contained profanity and sexual innuendo, her mother filed suit against defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of M.L.'s rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The district court held that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissed M.L.'s complaint for failure to state a claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that no clearly established law placed the constitutionality of defendants' conduct beyond debate at the time of M.L.'s dismissal from the team. The court held that nothing in its precedent allows a school to discipline nonthreatening off campus speech simply because an administrator considers it offensive, harassing, or disruptive; it is indisputable that non-threatening student expression is entitled to First Amendment protection, even though the extent of that protection may be diminished if the speech is composed by a student on campus, or purposefully brought onto a school campus; and as a general rule, speech that the speaker does not intend to reach the school community remains outside the reach of school officials. In this case, the court held that no clearly established law placed M.L.'s right's beyond debate at the time of the sanction, particularly given the unique extracurricular context. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims for municipal liability, vagueness, and overbreadth, because M.L. failed to plead facts that would entitle her to relief. View "Longoria v. San Benito Independent Consolidated School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Title IX complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Plaintiff's claims stemmed from an incident at school where another student raped her special needs child. Based on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017), the court held that if a disabled person seeks Title IX relief that a non-disabled person could also seek and requests relief that is different from or in addition to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), the IDEA's exhaustion requirement does not apply. In this case, plaintiff's claim involved simple discrimination, irrespective of the IDEA's FAPE obligation. Were all traces of the child's disabilities removed, the court explained that plaintiff's claim would look nearly identical to allegations that the school was deliberately indifferent to the child's sexual abuse. Therefore, the court held that the gravamen of the complaint was not about the denial of a FAPE, and the IDEA's exhaustion requirement does not apply. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. Dallas Independent School District" on Justia Law