Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Two nurses, employed by the Board of Education, claim that the School Board retaliated against them for advocating for the rights of students who are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701; and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act; and that the Board violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act by retaliating against them for reporting a parent’s suspected child neglect to a state agency. One plaintiff also claimed that the School Board failed to accommodate her disability and constructively discharged her, in violation of the ADA and the KCRA. The district court granted the Board summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed as to the retaliation claims under the ADA, Section 504, and the KCRA. A jury could “reasonably doubt” the Board’s explanation for its actions and find that it acted, at least in part, because of the protected advocacy. The court affirmed as to the whistleblower claims; the plaintiffs only allege that they reported a mother of possible neglect and do not allege that they reported any violation of law by their employer to a state agency. The court affirmed as to the individual claim for failure to accommodate disabilities. The nurse failed to provide any documentation about her disability diagnosis during the interactive process. View "Kirilenko-Ison v. Board of Education of Danville Independent Schools" on Justia Law

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Duval, a special education teacher in the Lansing district, was under the supervision of Bacon until 2011. Several teachers reported Duval’s physical abuse of students. Bacon apparently did not address those reports. When Bacon retired. Robinson became principal. Upon Robinson’s arrival, the school’s union representative presented her with a full envelope of statements regarding Duvall’s mistreatment of students and women. After additional reports, Robinson referred the complaint to HR and requested an investigation by the District’s Director of Public Safety. Reports had been made to the Lansing police; employees of the Community Mental Health Authority and Guardianship Services made additional reports. Following a “firestorm” of complaints, and a brief suspension Duval was transferred to the Gardner school. The reports of abuse continued.In 2014, C.G., who has autism spectrum disorder, was a student at Gardner. Duvall allegedly abused C.G. by throwing him into furniture and kicking him in response to minor misbehavior. The Lansing police department charged Duval with child abuse. Duval resigned.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of C.G.’s right to bodily integrity under the Due Process Clause, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against several supervisory employees. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There is sufficient evidence of a direct chain of causation between the “deliberate indifference” of the supervisors and C.G.’s abuse. View "Garza v. Lansing School District" on Justia Law

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Although not technically enrolled at the University of Kentucky, Doe hoped to attend the University and was enrolled at a Kentucky community college that allows its students to transfer credits to the University and enroll in the University through a simpler application process. Doe lived in the University’s residence halls, paid fees directly to the University for housing, board, the student government association, student activities, access to the student center, a student health plan, technology, access to the recreation center, and student affairs. Doe alleges that a student enrolled at the University raped her on October 2, 2014. She reported the rape to the University’s police department. Over the course of 30 months, the University held four disciplinary hearings. The alleged perpetrator was found responsible for the rape at the first three hearings. The University’s appeal board overturned the decisions based on procedural deficiencies. At the fourth hearing, the alleged perpetrator was found not responsible.Doe dropped out of her classes and sued, asserting that the University’s deliberate indifference to her alleged sexual assault violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C.1681. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the claims. Doe has sufficiently shown that there remain genuine disputes as to whether the University denied her the benefit of an “education program or activity,” and has standing. View "Doe v. University of Kentucky" on Justia Law

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A.K., age 13, missed his school bus, which arrived at his stop seven minutes before its official scheduled time of arrival. A.K. ran home to retrieve his bicycle. A.K.’s father heard A.K. shout that he was going to ride his bike to school. While riding to school, A.K. was struck by a truck and suffered severe injuries. The parents sued the truck’s driver in state court but settled that claim.Durham (the bus company) argued that it did not owe a duty of care because A.K. never came into Durham’s custody or control on the date of the accident but returned home, to the custody and care of his father. The plaintiffs argued that Durham could have prevented the driver from leaving A.K.’s bus stop before the scheduled time had it followed its own policies and that the early departure breached a duty of care and was the proximate cause of A.K.’s injuries.Pursuant to Durham’s affirmative defense of comparative negligence, a jury allocated fault: 56 percent to the parents, 28 percent to the truck’s driver, and 16 percent to Durham. Because the parents were more than 50 percent at fault, the court entered judgment in Durham’s favor, as required by Tennessee law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding rulings preventing the parents from introducing Durham’s employee handbook or testimony regarding its internal policies. View "A. K. v. Durham School Services, L.P." on Justia Law

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Kesterson, a Kent State student-athlete, told her coach, Linder, that Linder’s son had raped her. Linder, a mandatory reporter under Kent State’s Title IX policy, never notified anyone. Linder stopped calling Kesterson by her nickname; chastised her in front of another coach for becoming emotional; removed Kesterson from her starting shortstop position and limited her playing time; and required Kesterson to attend events at the Linder home, where her accused rapist lived. Kenderson subsequently told other Kent State employees about the alleged rape, but none reported it. The university learned about the assault two years later when Kesterson made a complaint to the school’s Title IX office. An investigation led to Linder’s resignation. Kesterson sued Kent State, Linder, and another coach citing the free-speech retaliation protections of the First Amendment, her equal-protection rights, and Title IX. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. A reasonable coach would have known at the time Linder acted that she could not retaliate against a student-athlete for reporting a sexual assault. Rejecting the Title IX claim, the court stated that Kent State’s employees’ failure to follow policy did not amount to deliberate indifference by the school. View "Kesterson v. Kent State University" on Justia Law

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In 2008, after being denied tenure, George filed a discrimination lawsuit against Youngstown State University and was reinstated as part of a settlement agreement. As soon as the university’s obligations under the agreement expired, it declined to renew George’s contract and terminated his employment as a professor. George applied to several other positions within the university but was rejected. He then filed employment discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.Following discovery, the district court granted YSU summary judgment, finding that George either failed to show causation, failed to show he was qualified for the job, or failed to show that YSU’s claimed reasons for firing (or not hiring) him were pretextual. The court also dismissed one of George’s failure-to-hire claims— which arose after this lawsuit was filed—based on an administrative exhaustion requirement. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to George reveals a genuine dispute of material fact as to each of the claims and the district court further erred in enforcing the administrative exhaustion requirement because the defendants expressly waived it below. View "George v. Youngstown State University" on Justia Law

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After a “very public complaint” by a female student, Oberlin instructed its faculty that they should “[b]elieve” students who report sexual assault. Professor Raimondo became Oberlin’s Title IX Coordinator, stating she was “committed to survivor-centered processes.” The Department of Education’s Office notified Oberlin of an investigation into its sexual harassment and sexual assault complaint process.While that investigation was pending, undergraduate “Jane” told Raimondo that “John” had sexually assaulted her. Raimondo appointed Nolan to investigate. Oberlin’s policy states that investigation should usually take no more than 20 days and resolution should take no more than 60. Nolan took 120 days to issue a report. John emailed Raimondo about the impact the investigation was having on his life. Raimondo did not respond with any information. Assistant Dean Bautista was appointed as John’s advisor. The testimony at the hearing was mixed. Bautista “left the hearing early” and, two weeks later, retweeted: “To survivors everywhere, we believe you.” About 240 days after the complaint, the panel found John responsible for sexual misconduct because “the preponderance of the evidence established that effective consent was not maintained for the entire sexual encounter” because Jane was incapacitated from the moment she stated that she was “not sober.” The panel cited no other behavior supporting that finding and did not mention the contradiction between what Jane told Nolan (and others) and what she told the hearing panel. John was expelled.The Sixth Circuit held that John adequately stated a claim that Oberlin violated Title IX. The court noted “clear” procedural irregularities. The record did not support a finding that Jane met the Policy’s definition of “incapacitation.” View "Doe v. Oberlin College" on Justia Law

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UK freshman Doe reported two rapes. After the first report, UK’s Title IX Office issued a no-contact order to the male student (John) and investigated. Doe reported subsequent encounters with John. The Office investigated and determined that the no-contact order had not been violated. UK denied Doe's request to ban John from a certain library area. Before the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Panel, Kehrwald, UK’s Dean of Students presented evidence on Doe’s behalf. Doe alleges that Kerhwald failed to adequately represent her interests, failed to object when John’s attorneys actively participated by examining and cross-examining witnesses, and did not introduce evidence of a voicemail that she left on the night of the alleged rape. John’s attorneys successfully argued against its admission. The Sexual Misconduct Appeals Board upheld a finding in John's favor. In the investigation of Doe’s allegations against “James,” the Office also issued a no-contact order but James refused to comply with a request to change his class sections and failed to appear at a hearing. James was dismissed from UK.Doe brought Title IX claims, 20 U.S.C. 1681, arguing that UK’s response caused a hostile educational environment and vulnerability to further harassment and that UK demonstrated deliberate indifference by failing to follow UK’s policies throughout the investigation and hearing. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Doe failed to show that UK’s response subjected her to further actionable harassment that caused Title IX injuries. View "Doe v. University of Kentucky" on Justia Law

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T.R., in the seventh grade, met with the school principal, Gill-Williams. T.R. told Gill-Williams that she had been thinking about suicide for a month, stating. that “things at home like guns and knives" made her "want to hurt herself.” Gill-Williams called a police officer assigned to the school, Olney, who called T.R.’s father, Machan. Machan, at work about 90 minutes away, objected to Olney taking T.R. to the hospital, telling Olney to keep T.R. at the school until he got there. Olney took T.R. to the hospital. An emergency-room nurse conducted a mental-health assessment and concluded that T.R. needed treatment. Although T.R. did not appear intoxicated or disoriented, the physician, Dr. Friedman, ordered a blood draw as part of the standard procedure for a mental evaluation. T.R. resisted the blood draw, which tested negative for drugs. Friedman and other medical staff talked to T.R. about her suicidal thoughts. Machan arrived. After considerable discussion, the hospital released T.R. on a condition that she go to a mental health center. Machan took T.R. there, where they stayed for about 45 minutes.Machan filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court denied Olney qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit held that Olney was entitled to summary judgment. The existence of probable cause to fear that T.R. might hurt herself meant that Olney did not need Machan’s consent to take T.R. to the hospital. Olney did not violate the Fourth Amendment by taking T.R. to the hospital and authorizing the blood draw. View "Machan v. Olney" on Justia Law

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Students at several of Detroit’s worst-performing public schools were subject to poor conditions within their classrooms, missing or unqualified teachers, physically dangerous facilities, and inadequate books and materials. In 2016, the plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that these conditions deprive them of a basic minimum education that provides a chance at foundational literacy, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses. They sought recognition of a fundamental right to a basic education. They argued that the schools they are forced to attend are schools in name only, so the state cannot justify the restriction on their liberty imposed by compulsory attendance. They sued state officials, rather than local entities, based on the state’s general supervision of all public education and the state’s specific interventions in Detroit’s public schools. The state argued that it recently returned control to local officials. The district court found that the state defendants were the proper parties to sue but dismissed the complaint on the merits.The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Though the plaintiffs failed to adequately plead their equal protection and compulsory attendance claims, the court reinstated claims that they have been denied a basic minimum education, and have been deprived of access to literacy. Application of the principles in the Supreme Court’s education cases to a substantive due process framework demonstrates that a basic minimum education should be recognized as a fundamental right. View "Gary B. v. Whitmer" on Justia Law