Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Foundation filed suit challenging a religious exercise at a local school board's meetings, including a prayer in the portion of the meeting that was open to the public and that included student attendees and participants. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and injunctive relief to the Foundation, holding that invocations to start the open portions of school board meetings were not within the legislative prayer tradition that allowed certain types of prayer to open legislative sessions, because these prayers typically take place before groups of schoolchildren whose attendance was not truly voluntary and whose relationship to school district officials, including the school board, was not one of full parity. Applying the test in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612–13 (1971), the panel held that the Board's prayer policy lacked a secular legislative purpose and thus violated the Establishment Clause. The panel also held that the district court's injunction was not overbroad because it was limited to restricting only speech that constituted a governmental establishment of religion. View "Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and attorney's fees in favor of plaintiffs in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action challenging a public school's policies. The policies prohibited, among other things, picketing on school district property, and prohibited strikers from coming onto school grounds, even for reasons unrelated to an anticipated teachers' strike. Plaintiffs also filed state law claims. The panel held that the government speech doctrine did not authorize the government's suppression of contrary views. In this case, no reasonable observer would have misperceived the speech which the school district sought to suppress—speech favoring the teachers' side in the strike—as a position taken by the school district itself. The panel also held that, because the school district's policies were neither reasonable nor viewpoint neutral, they failed even the non-public forum test and thus violated the First Amendment rights of Union members. Furthermore, the policies violated rights of Union members under the Oregon Constitution, and the school district was properly held liable for the actions of its security officer in barring Plaintiff Boyer from the school parking lot because she had a sign on the back windshield of her car supporting the teachers. View "Eagle Point Education Association v. Jackson County School District No. 9" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, challenging on First Amendment grounds, a school uniform policy that required their two minor children to wear shirts or sweatshirts with a logo consisting of the name of the school, a stylized picture of a gopher (the school mascot), and the motto "Tomorrow’s Leaders." Given the failure of the Ninth Circuit's en banc call, the panel held that the uniform policy—both the motto requirement and the exemption—violated the First Amendment. The panel reasoned that there can hardly be interests more compelling than fostering children's educational achievement and providing a safe and supportive educational environment. However, requiring students to display the motto "Tomorrow's Leaders" on their uniforms was not narrowly tailored to serve those interests. The panel held that the Individual Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because the applicable law was not sufficiently clear to put them on notice that the uniform policy would violate the First Amendment. However, because the Institutional Defendants were not individuals, they were not protected by qualified immunity. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Frudden v. Pilling" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment in favor of DOE in a suit filed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Plaintiff, the parent of J.B., filed suit individually and on behalf of J.B., challenging J.B.'s individualized education plan (IEP). The panel held that the case was not moot; DOE violated the IDEA by failing to address transition services in the proposed IEP; DOE violated the IDEA by failing to specify in the IEP the Least Restrictive Environment during the regular and extended school year, and the IEP did not detail the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of the proposed specialized instruction in J.B.'s Science and Social Studies activities; nothing in 20 U.S.C. 1414(d) indicates that an IEP must specify the qualifications or training of service providers nor was it established in the record that DOE agreed to provide such an aide at the IEP meeting; and DOE violated the IDEA by failing to specify Applied Behavioral Analysis as a methodology in the IEP. View "R. B. v. Hawaii Department of Education" on Justia Law

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An educational agency does not commit a per se violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1414, by not specifying the anticipated school where special education services will be delivered within a child's individualized education program. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Department in an action brought on behalf of a student under the IDEA. The panel held that the IDEA did not require identification of the anticipated school where special education services would be delivered in light of the student's planned move to a new school district. Therefore, the student was not denied a free appropriate public education because of a purported procedural error. View "Rachel H. v. Department of Education, State of Hawaii" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying a high school coach's motion for a preliminary injunction that would require the District to allow him to kneel and pray on the fifty-yard line in view of students and parents immediately after football games. The panel held that the coach spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and therefore declined to reach whether the district justifiably restricted his speech to avoid violating the Establishment Clause. The coach could not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his First Amendment retaliation claim, and was not entitled to the preliminary injunction he sought. By kneeling and praying on the fifty-yard line immediately after games, the coach was fulfilling his professional responsibility to communicate demonstratively to students and spectators, and he took advantage of his position to press his particular views upon the impressionable and captive minds before him. View "Kennedy v. Bremerton School District" on Justia Law

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The passage of Assembly Bill 97, a massive reform package designed to streamline public education financing and decentralize education governance, did not abrogate the Ninth Circuit's decisions in which the panel held that California school districts and county offices of education (COEs) are "arms of the state" entitled to state sovereign immunity. Applying the factors set forth in Mitchell v. Los Angeles Community College District, 861 F.2d 198, the panel held that school districts and COEs in California remain arms of the state and cannot face suit. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's lawsuit against the Orange County Department of Education where plaintiff alleged claims related to his termination with the Department. View "Sato v. Orange County Department of Education" on Justia Law