Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the high school and school district in an action brought by plaintiff under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff, a student with attention deficit disorder, sought damages after he was assaulted and seriously injured by another student at a high school football game. Petitioner argues that guidance issued by the DOE in various Dear Colleague Letters should be binding, and that the school's failure to adopt all of the Letters' suggestions for preventing harassment of disabled students amounts to disability discrimination.The panel concluded that guidance issued by the DOE in the Letters was not binding and that plaintiff may not use the Letters to leapfrog over the statutory requirements to assert a cognizable claim under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. The panel explained that the Letters do not adjust the legal framework governing private party lawsuits brought under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act. Therefore, plaintiff's claims—which rely entirely on the enforceability of the Letters as distinct legal obligations—fail. In this case, the Letters did not make plaintiff's need for social accommodation "obvious," such that failure to enact their recommendations constituted a denial of a reasonable accommodation with deliberate indifference. Furthermore, no request for a social-related accommodation was ever made and no prior incidents of bullying or harassment involving plaintiff were observed or reported by the school prior to the assault during the football game. View "Csutoras v. Paradise High School" on Justia Law

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Yu, a Chinese international student, enrolled in ISU's Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology in 2008. He completed the requisite four years of instruction and successfully defended his dissertation but failed to complete a mandatory professional internship consisting of 2,000 clinical hours. Several of Yu’s supervisors commented on his limited English language fluency and that Yu had trouble “form[ing] alliances” with clients and patients, and possessed limited “ability to adjust treatment.” Dr. Landers, Yu's supervisor, dismissed Yu, later testifying that Yu was never able “to grasp the communication nuances that are required” and noting the vulnerability of the patients, who were particularly high risk. After Yu was dismissed from the internship, ISU dismissed Yu from the Program.Yu filed suit, alleging that ISU violated Title VI because it intentionally discriminated against him based on his race or national origin. Yu presented the expert testimony of Dr. Zorwick that Yu was a victim of “aversive racism,” comparable to “unconscious” or “implicit” bias. The district court ruled in favor of ISU. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Evidence of unconscious bias against a protected class in an appropriate case may be probative of whether an entity has intentionally discriminated in a Title VI case but the question is factual, and here the court permissibly found that ISU did not intentionally discriminate. View "Yu v. Idaho State University" on Justia Law

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Blind students, Payan and Mason, took classes at LACC, a Southern California community college. Upon their enrollment, each registered for disability accommodations through the college’s Office of Special Services (OSS). Their approved accommodations included tape-recorded lectures, preferential seating, receiving materials in electronic text, and test-taking accommodations. Mason also received weekly tutoring. Each uses a screen reading software to read electronic text. Despite these accommodations, each encountered accessibility problems at LACC, relating to in-class materials, textbooks, educational technology, websites and computer applications, and research databases in the LACC library.Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that individual and systemic failures to remedy accessibility barriers violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted partial summary judgment for Plaintiffs, after instructing them to reframe their disability discrimination arguments through a disparate impact framework only. A jury found the discrimination against Payan was deliberately indifferent and awarded Payan $40,000 in compensatory damages but no damages to Mason.The Ninth Circuit vacated. Despite acknowledging the individual accommodations to which OSS determined the Plaintiffs were entitled, the district court erroneously rejected these claims as failure to accommodate claims because it found that the Plaintiffs did not adequately put LACC on notice that they required specific accommodations. On remand, the court must reconsider Plaintiffs’ individual claims under either the disparate impact framework or the individual failure to accommodate framework, depending on the nature of the claim. View "Payan v. Los Angeles Community College District" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies of plaintiffs' action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Plaintiffs claim that the district court is failing its responsibilities to students under the IDEA by not timely identifying and evaluating students with disabilities, and, after identifying them, by providing them with insufficiently individualized, "cookie-cutter" accommodations and services. Although plaintiffs argue that exhaustion was not required because they are challenging district-wide policies that only a court can remedy, plaintiffs are unable to identify such policies. The panel agreed with the district court that plaintiffs have not satisfied any of the limited exceptions recognized by caselaw to the exhaustion requirement contained in 20 U.S.C. 1415(l). In this case, plaintiffs challenged what amounted to failures in practice by the school district, rather than policies or practices of general applicability. View "Student A v. San Francisco Unified School District" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in an action brought by parents and a student challenging the State of California's extended prohibition on in-person schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel concluded that, despite recent changes to the State's Covid-related regulations, this case is not moot.On the merits, the panel held that the district court properly rejected the substantive due process claims of those plaintiffs who challenge California's decision to temporarily provide public education in an almost exclusively online format. The panel explained that both it and the Supreme Court have repeatedly declined to recognize a federal constitutional right to have the State affirmatively provide an education in any particular manner, and plaintiffs have not made a sufficient showing that the panel can or should recognize such a right in this case.However, in regard to the State's interference in the in-person provision of private education to the children of five of the plaintiffs in this case, the panel concluded that the State's forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable caselaw—the right of parents to control their children's education and to choose their children's educational forum. The panel explained that California's ban on in-person schooling abridges a fundamental liberty of these five plaintiffs that is protected by the Due Process Clause, and thus that prohibition can be upheld only if it withstands strict scrutiny. Given the State's closure order's lack of narrow tailoring, the panel cannot say that, as a matter of law, it survives such scrutiny. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to these five plaintiffs and remanded for further proceedings.In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the panel concluded that the public-school plaintiffs have failed to make a sufficient showing of a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The panel explained that the challenged distinctions that the State has drawn between public schools and other facilities are subject only to rational-basis scrutiny, and these distinctions readily survive that lenient review. In regard to the private-school plaintiffs, the panel vacated the district court's judgment rejecting their Equal Protection claims and remanded for further consideration in light of the conclusion that the State's actions implicate a fundamental right of those plaintiffs. View "Brach v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction ordering E.E.'s current educational placement as his "stay put" placement during the pendency of judicial proceedings in a suit brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).The panel concluded that the ALJ acted without legal authority in determining that E.E.'s potential future placement in the 2020 individualized education plan (IEP) constituted his current placement for purposes of E.E.'s stay put placement. Therefore, because the ALJ acted ultra vires, her stay put determination was void. Consequently, the parents' stay put motion did not seek to modify an existing stay put order, so the district court correctly entered an automatic preliminary injunction pursuant to Joshua A. v. Rocklin Unified Sch. Dist., 559 F.3d 1036, 1037 (9th Cir. 2009). Furthermore, the school district's proposed exception to the stay put provision is not supported by either the text of the IDEA or any other legal authority, and the panel declined to adopt it. View "E.E. v. Norris School District" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the school district in an action brought by plaintiff, a former high school football coach, alleging violation of his rights under the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the school district prohibited him from praying at the end of football games while kneeling on the fifty-yard line, surrounded by players and occasionally community members.The panel held that the school district's allowance of plaintiff's conduct would violate the Establishment Clause and thus the school district's efforts to prevent the conduct did not violate plaintiff's constitutional rights nor his rights under Title VII. The panel rejected plaintiff's free speech and free exercise claims, concluding that the record before it and binding Supreme Court precedent compel the conclusion that the school district would have violated the Establishment Clause by allowing plaintiff to pray at the conclusion of football games, in the center of the field, with students who felt pressured to join him. Furthermore, plaintiff's attempts to draw nationwide attention to his challenge to the school district compels the conclusion that he was not engaging in private prayer, but was instead engaging in public speech of an overtly religious nature while performing his job duties. In this case, the school district tried to reach an accommodation for plaintiff, but that was spurned by his insisting that he be allowed to pray immediately after the conclusion of each game, likely surrounded by students who felt pressured to join him.The panel also concluded that plaintiff's Title VII claims alleging failure to rehire, disparate treatment, failure to accommodate and retaliation failed. The panel explained that plaintiff did not show that he was adequately performing his job; plaintiff's conduct is clearly dissimilar to the other personal activities of assistant coaches he cites and thus he cannot make out a prima facie case of disparate treatment; the school district could not reasonably accommodate plaintiff's practice without undue hardship; and the school district had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment actions. View "Kennedy v. Bremerton School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, filed suit against the University, alleging claims under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, Title IX, and Oregon law. Plaintiff claims that there is a gender disparity in pay that is department wide and is caused by the University's practice of granting "retention raises" to faculty as an incentive to remain at the University when they are being courted by other academic institutions. Plaintiff also alleges that female professors at the University are less likely to engage in retention negotiations than male professors, and when they do, they are less likely to successfully obtain a raise. The district court granted summary judgment for the University on all counts.The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the Equal Pay Act claim because a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff and her comparators did substantially equal work. Furthermore, plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact under Oregon Revised Statute 652.220 for the same reasons she has done so under the Equal Pay Act. The panel also concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the Title VII disparate impact claim where there is at least a genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff established a prima facie case of disparate impact. However, plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment because equity raises and retention raises are not comparable and the panel could not say that plaintiff's comparators were treated "more favorably" than was plaintiff in this context. Consequently, summary judgment was also proper on plaintiff's claim under Oregon Revised Statute 659A.030. The panel also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's Title IX claim and state constitutional claim. View "Freyd v. University of Oregon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an elementary school student who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and severe, disability-related behavioral issues, filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging that the school district denied him equal access to a public education because of his disability. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that plaintiff failed to exhaust his claim through the administrative procedures prescribed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as required when a plaintiff seeks relief under other federal statutes for the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE).The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal and held that a close review of plaintiff's allegations reveals that the gravamen of his ADA claim is discrimination separate from his right to a FAPE. Therefore, the panel concluded that plaintiff's ADA claim is not subject to IDEA exhaustion. Finally, the panel concluded that there is nothing untoward—or inconsistent with Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017)—in plaintiff's having followed resolution of his IDEA claims with a lawsuit alleging non-FAPE-based violations of another statute. View "D. D. v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former high school student, filed suit alleging disability discrimination by school officials in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and, in the alternative, as barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations.The panel applied Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017), and held that the crux of plaintiff's complaint seeks relief for the disability-based discrimination and harassment she faced at school, and not for the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Therefore, plaintiff need not exhaust the administrative remedies under the IDEA, and the panel reversed the district court's order dismissing her complaint for failure to exhaust. The panel also vacated the district court's order dismissing the complaint as alternatively barred by the statute of limitations and remanded. On remand, the district court should reconsider whether any of plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations in light of the panel's conclusion that plaintiff does not seek relief for the denial of a FAPE under the IDEA. View "McIntyre v. Eugene School District 4J" on Justia Law